Archive for March, 2007

Tom Uren, ‘Straight left’ & ‘The Fight’

Tom Uren, ‘Straight-left’ & ‘The Fight’Ton Uren is an Australian politician who was a minister in the Whitlam and Hawke Australian Labor Party governments. He has written an autobiography called “Straight-left” and collaborated with Martin Flanagan on a more difficult to define book called “The Fight”.

Well we all met at Leanne’s. Everyone was excited to meet Tom Uren. Some had just read The Fight, some just Straight Left, and some both.

Everyone was very shy at first, happy to let Tom talk, and reluctant to ask questions. Later the questions started to come.

The three things that amazed me about him were:
– despite more justification than we could imagine he didn’t hate anyone. This is a guy that has been treated appalling as a prisoner of war, and who has seen decades of dirty tricks at the highest level of politics, attacked from all sides at various times by the conservatives, fellow Labor colleagues, and powerful media barons, and yet no hate;
– he still has hope. Despite seeing politics from the inside and the jadedness and cynicism that breeds in most of us he still maintains hope; and
– he spoke mostly about relationships, characters and feelings. This is a guy Martin Flanagan, his biographer, says describes his life as a series of positions, my postion on this my position on that, and yet he said very little about that to us.

Another interesting thing was the questions we asked. There were questions that delved deeper into the relationship/feelings territory, some about the process of writing and some about content/analysis issues, but overall really most people were interested in him as a person rather than what he may or may think about various issues.

I felt the highlight of ‘The Fight’ was chapter 26. It quotes an encyclical by Pope John 23 from 1963. Tom spoke a lot about this to us also, the full text is here

Its a fantastic description of what a nation should be, in particular the rights it should protect, however you could possibly argue that the popes encyclical was a very long version of the universal declaration of human rights which came 15 years earlier in 1948, but I think the Pope covered a lot more ground, addressing issues that don’t get a guernsey in the Declaration.

For me the positive take home message was to see a guy at 86 still hopeful still active still believing. That it is possible to be like that, that you can be involved in politics and not become jaded is a very positive message and a great role model.

But the worry for me is whether Tom’s faith in ‘the people’ is justified. Are ‘the people’ really ‘men and women of goodwill’? They seem remarkably susceptible to being led in really horrible directions by even very uncharismatic politicians.

My fear is that Tom and the Popes’s ‘men and women of goodwill’ may have been a product of the experiences of the generations living in the the 1st half of the 20th century, rather than a natural characteristic? Maybe war and depression built their belief in a need for nation and collective effort, enabling them to move away from total individualism? If so does that mean subsequent generations, that have not had those experiences, may not have not learnt the same lessons and are not ‘men and women of goodwill’?

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March 3, 2007 at 6:43 am Leave a comment


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