Thursday, August 20, 2009

Losing It: The Inside Story of the Labor Party in Opposition, by Annabel Crabb

The title of this book makes it seem hopelessly dated, but I enjoyed Ms. Crabb’s Quarterly Essay so much I was eager for some follow-up reading.

Boy, oh, boy. Talk about ‘step back in time’. It seems ages ago that Labor was a party that seemed consigned to eternal opposition.

Crabb chronicles all the various Labor Party leaders in opposition. We go from Beazley, to Crean, to Latham, and end up with Beazley again. The book ends with Beazley as leader. Who would have guessed that within a bare two years Kevin Rudd would be prime minister?

This is a good, useful history of Labor’s years in opposition. It highlights how shakey the Howard Government was from 1996 until 2001, the year of the Tampa. From then on the Howard Government was very assured.

It seems depressing – to this reader at least – that the electorate can be so manipulated by irrational fear. I vividly remember the Tampa saga, and always thought it a huge beat-up. How could the country become so convulsed when 400 people, without even a boat, tried to seek asylum? The fear and loathing ran white hot, and it ran on and on for years and years. And to think this kept Howard solidly in government for years to come, turning any kind of rational debate on its head.

But I digress.

Losing It has much interesting behind the scenes detail that political junkies will lap up. It is also written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style. Here’s my favourite quote:

"That night – Wednesday 4th June – the busy main strip of the Manuka dining precinct was treated to the comparatively rare sight of Kim Beazley, propelling himself along the footpath with all the inconspicuousness of a Spanish galleon in full sail."

I fear this book is now pretty much consigned to collecting dust, but Crabb’s lively prose and sense of humour made it enjoyable for this reader. You should give it a go to if you're interested in Australian federal politics.

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