News National Bob Carr learning the perils of political biographies

Bob Carr learning the perils of political biographies

Bob Carr
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Political diaries can be the paper equivalent of Mogadon, but former foreign minister Bob Carr has brought new life to the genre, which really hasn’t set the reading world on fire since The Latham Diaries. 

It was former British MP Gyles Brandreth who once said that the best political diaries meet the four “I”s test: immediate, indiscreet, intimate, indecipherable.

“So that if somebody chances upon it, they cannot quite read what you have said.”

Former prime minister John Howard kept a diary which became the basis of his best-selling memoir Lazarus Rising.

But he noted in a 2005 interview, as his Labor opponent Mark Latham’s book exploded across Canberra, his diary writing was “very spasmodic and intermittent … it’s of a different character than some diaries that have been serialised recently”.

John Howard signing copies of his biography. Photo: AAP

This is reflected in Lazarus Rising, which is told in a straightforward manner with no rancour or bitterness while comprehensively covering Howard’s political successes and failures.

Latham’s book, on the other hand, was a bucket of bile.

He called Kim Beazley one of the most indecent politicians he had come across, saying: “I wouldn’t make him a toilet cleaner in parliament house, let alone leader of the opposition.”

In The Latham Diaries there are anecdotes of MPs, political advisers and journalists engaged in drug-taking and sexual misadventures, based on rumour, innuendo and, occasionally, the truth.

Kevin Rudd characterised it as “part of Mark’s recovery therapy out there in Lathamland, wherever that is”.

But the Liberals loved it.

George Brandis, now attorney-general, joked at the time that he would be at the front of the queue at his local bookstore.

“I’d recommend every Australian who’s interested in politics to get their copy.”

Now Carr has his chance to make a contribution to the canon.

Diary of a Foreign Minister, which hits the bookshelves on Friday (April 11) tells of the inner workings of the Gillard and Rudd governments over their last 18 months.

But among the 500-plus pages – which go into such worthy issues as Australia’s bid for a UN Security Council seat, the Asian Century white paper and the G20’s deliberations – are some colourful insights into Carr the first-class global traveller.

First-world problems are a relentless burden for him.

Airline food
Airline food is not to Bob Carr’s liking.

A letter from Singapore Airlines sheds light on the former NSW premier’s in-flight entertainment concerns.

“Please accept my sincere apology if any part of our First Class in-flight offerings fell below your expectations,” the letter says. “Specifically, I have taken note of the lack of English subtitles for the Wagner Opera Siegfried.”

He rails against business class travel: “No edible food. No airline pyjamas. I lie in my tailored suit.”

And on another flight, he blasts the airline for its “ceramic food” and seat design that “owe a lot to the trans-Atlantic slave trade”.

Name-dropping everyone from Henry Kissinger to Hilary Clinton should earn Carr a global audience.

And then there’s the inevitable Labor party intrigue, such as how Carr had privately decided in December 2012 to back a switch from prime minister Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd but in public kept up the facade of supporting her.

Gillard will get her own chance to respond to Carr and others when she publishes her memoirs later this year.

Already she has shown a flair for writing.

Her Guardian online article this week reviewing the latest Game of Thrones series makes colourful comparisons between the world of Westeros and Canberra.

“I first felt the addictive power of Game of Thrones when I was prime minister, living in a world where power was also pursued relentlessly, albeit far less colourfully.

“Certainly the characters of my world were nowhere near as good looking or exotically dressed.”

Gillard loyalist Greg Combet is also putting pen to paper, as is queenmaker-independent MP Rob Oakeshott and former treasurer Wayne Swan.

The question is whether they will turn out to be an alternative to sleeping tablets or as engaging as a tale of swords, dragons and sorcery.