Latham and Hanson's marriage of convenience

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'Pauline Hanson's political talent lies in the way in which she embodies this mood [of anger], not so much through her ideas or opinions but through her personality. The Hanson persona is a perfect match for the One Nation constituency: resentful, distrustful and overwhelmingly negative ... If we were governed by this sort of nonsense the country would soon be in receivership.'

Senator Pauline Hanson (Photo by Michael Masters/Getty Images)That's Mark Latham in 2001, writing about the woman leading the party he's now joined. Suffice it to say that until very, very recently, Latham did not like Hanson one bit.

In 2003, for instance, the press described Hanson shaking uncontrollably, medicated and under 24-hour surveillance in the hospital of Brisbane Women's Prison as the reality of her three-year term for defrauding the Electoral Commission (a sentence later overturned on appeal) struck home. Latham's response? He pointed out that she'd been campaigning for tougher jail penalties and then quipped, 'Now she's got one.'

Famously, Hanson reconciled with Tony Abbott, the man she blamed (with some justification) for that imprisonment, and so no-one should be surprised at her welcoming onboard the former federal leader of the Labor Party. Even in his current, somewhat disheveled, state, Latham constitutes a sizeable catch for an organisation previously reliant on the guy who thought the Port Arthur massacre was faked or the bloke who gave Nazi salutes next to swastikas mowed into his lawn or the man whose thoughts about blowjobs and domestic violence unexpectedly emerged during a press conference.

But why's Latham doing it? If we say the man's lost his mind, we must, in fairness, acknowledge that he possessed a mind to lose. Bizarre as the notion now sounds, Latham brought consider intellectual firepower to the Labor leadership, having articulated his Third Way program back in 1998 in the not altogether terrible book Civilizing Global Capital.

Yet his deep commitment to free market policies meant that his hostility to Hanson always came as much from the right as the left.

In The Latham Diaries, he describes what he calls Hanson's 'xenophobic maiden speech' and then adds: 'The Labor Opposition was practising its own slice of Hansonism, with a strongly protectionist stance in the tarrif debate. I was opposed to this repositioning on economic policy and argued against it in Shadow Cabinet. It was the catalyst for my disillusionment with Beazley and belief that he was an opportunist, rather than a conviction politician.'

 

"The division goes far further than personal instability. At base, Latham and Hanson embody fundamentally different politics, even if they're momentarily united by ambition and self-interest."

 

In other words, for Latham, Hanson's biggest sin lay in her opposition to the neoliberal orthodoxy, rather than her xenophobia.

Not surprisingly, when Latham first flirted with a political comeback, he did so by joining David Leyonhjelm's Liberal Democrats, a party equally fanatically committed to both culture war and free market economics. But market fundamentalism, like Leyonhjelm, has never been popular in Australia. As for culture war, Latham knows full well that most of what he bangs on about now is utter bullshit.

For instance, in his 2014 book The Political Bubble, he rubbished Christopher Pyne's attempts to reorganise the national curriculum to recognise 'the legacy of Western civilisation'. 'According to the many concerns parents and students express about the school system,' Laham wrote, 'this is a low order issue. One could stand by the school gates at pick-up time for months on end, asking parents about the things that need to be done to assist their children's education, and not hear a single mention of "Western civilisation" and "Anzac Day". Pyne's priorities are a world apart from those of school communities.'

Fast forward to 2018, and here's our author describing his program for One Nation: 'This is a fight for our civilisational values,' he says, 'for free speech, for merit selection, resilience, love of country — all of them under siege ...'

To explain his about-face, it's useful to recall a curious vignette in The Latham Diaries, in which our hero lunches with powerbroker Mark Arbib at the swanky Azuma's restaurant in Sydney. In Latham's telling, Arbib reveals the latest finding from Labor's internal focus groups — to whit, the popularity of 'bashing the blacks'.

'You need to find new issues,' he says, 'like attacking land rights, get stuck into all the politically correct Aboriginal stuff – the punters love it.' According to the diary, Latham scornfully resists the advice, thinking to himself that Arbib should have been wining and dining Hanson, rather than a free marketeer like him.

But back then, Latham saw himself as shaping the country. Today, though, he doesn't imagine One Nation forming government. He sees it as his ticket back into the limelight – and he recognises that Hanson's economic populism provides a far more effective bedrock for anti-PC bluster than Leyonhjelm's neoliberalism.

In The Political Bubble, Latham described culture war as 'a useful tactic for rightwingers, as it masks their own close links to Australia's business establishment' and enables them 'to convince middle-class families that, in terms of values and interests, suburban communities have little in common with progressive politics'. That was meant as a critique but it's now become a strategy.

That's why Latham's jettisoned the economic ideology upon which he built his own career and hitched himself to the protectionism he's always loathed. He realises he's better able to peddle his culture war shtick in a party that's not so self-evidently linked to the pro-market ideas of the business class.

It would be an understatement to describe the Hanson-Latham alliance as unstable. Latham couldn't even keep himself employed with Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron as part of Sky's Three Stooges show; Hanson's fallen out acrimoniously with every significant ally she's ever garnered.

But in this case, the division goes far further than personal instability. At base, Latham and Hanson embody fundamentally different politics, even if they're momentarily united by ambition and self-interest.

 

 

Jeff SparrowJeff Sparrow is a writer, editor and honorary fellow at Victoria University.

 

 

Main image: Senator Pauline Hanson (Photo by Michael Masters/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Jeff Sparrow, Pauline Hanson, Mark Latham, One Nation

 

 

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Existing comments

The Parliament House Canberra gift shop is a must-see for any visitor to that institution. There's the Pauline Hanson DVD 'Please Explain', books on the great and not-so-great, and, intriguingly Prime Ministerial coffee mugs. None featured Latham, of course, as he was soundly defeated by John Winston Howard at some election. However, I did manage to purchase a Paul Keating mug and I can now sip my Milo knowing I'm in a safe pair of hands.
Pam | 09 November 2018


I am glad Mark Latham was never able to lead his party to victory in 2004. Enough Said
stuart lawrence | 09 November 2018


I remember Mark Latham being impressed by the opinion of Bob Brown who was advocating for an end to the rampant tree clearing in Tasmania. Howard supported this tree clearing and won crucial Tasmanian electorates, appealing to those in the timber industry. Howard has arguably been described as Australia's worst Prime Minister but Australia's best politician. I'm inclined to agree but I do give Howard great credit for the gun buy back. As for Latham and Hansen, I don't expect the political partnership to last. It appears that it's either Hansen's way or the highway, and I expect Latham will end up choosing the highway, as so many other One Nation politicians have done.
Grant Allen | 09 November 2018


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