February 5, 2005


Post-Latham: now for a real Third Way (Vern Hughes, 08 January 2005, News Weekly)

In the late 1990s, Mark Latham seemed a rarity in Australian politics: a politician who read widely, wrote prolifically, and vented opinions outside his party's canon of approved thoughts.

His themes in the years from 1997 to 2002 were the right themes for Australia: deficiencies in public and private governance; the relationships between citizens (and between citizens and governments); our declining stocks of social capital; the capture of our key institutions by "insiders"; and the pervasiveness of disenchantment as our number one political song.

These themes in the UK and North America in the 1990s were linked with the Third Way debate. In Australia, that debate never got off the ground. Mark Latham was the only federal politician prepared to welcome the discussion. [...]

And then a curious thing happened. Drawn to his party's leadership like a bear to a honeypot, Mark Latham found himself leading a party that remained untouched by the debate to which he'd devoted his preceding years. Instead of the new Third Way politics of partnership and reconnection, Latham's party remained stuck in a 19th-century mould of "statism, unionism, and class", as he described it in 2001. It was never going to work.

The depth of the Latham tragedy can be best seen by retrieving some of his best thinking, offered in a speech to a Third Way conference organised by the University of NSW Centre for Applied Economic Research in 2001. In defining the Third Way, Latham said:

This is best demonstrated through a series of practical examples:

In schools policy, left-wing politics has tried to achieve its goals through the creation of large education departments, while right-wing politics has emphasised the need for individualised vouchers. A Third Way solution is to encourage parents to run community or charter schools.

In the current school funding debate in Australia, the government sector has been pitted against the non-government sector, a situation in which schools are fighting schools. A Third Way solution is to require the top non-government schools to assist struggling government schools - a mentoring plan that builds bridges and collaboration across the school sectors.

In the welfare debate, the left has advocated large increases in government spending, while the right has emphasised the need for personal motivation and responsibility. A Third Way solution is to support the work of social entrepreneurs: innovative projects that create new social and economic partnerships in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

In the past, left-wing politics has been hostile to the free market system, while the right has strongly supported the profit motive. The Third Way, by contrast, sees the reform of capitalism as an ethical question. It wants the corporate sector to meet its proper social responsibilities, reconnecting global economics with local communities. [...]

These directions, however, are anathema to Labor, and Latham as party leader quickly jettisoned anything that resembled Third Way thinking and anchored himself in the familiarity of Labor statism.

Sounds like Bill Clinton's first two years, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 5, 2005 6:53 AM

This is just a loopy article. In order to get his party's leadership, Latham had to run to Beazley's left, after the centrist Beazley lost narrowly to Howard. Anti-Americanism was a pivotal element of Latham's appeal.

He was no Blair, just an overambitious loser punching above his weight.

Posted by: Bart at February 5, 2005 8:32 AM