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Lange and the art of political vitriol

The art of the political insult is at its most (or should that be least?) refined Down Under. Former Australian opposition leader Mark Latham, who once called John Howard, prime minister, and other leaders backing the Iraq war “a conga-line of suckholes”, was only the latest exponent in a long Aussie tradition.

But the latest broadsides come from New Zealand, where, like the climate, politics has tended to be milder.

David Lange, 63, former premier, has spiked his just-published memoirs with barbs about his former cabinet colleagues and fellow leaders on the international stage.

“Dear God! What a terrible lot of people they were! It is hard to believe I used to think so much of them,” he says of the people he served with.

Russell Marshall, the foreign minister, is damned as “shallow, shabby, endlessly self-seeking” and Michael Bassett, health minister, as “always venomous”.

In My Life the former Labour prime minister, who resigned in 1989 and is now suffering from a serious illness, criticises the current prime minister Helen Clark, who was then housing minister, for sacrificing principle for political gain: “As long as her paddock had a good sole of grass,the firestorm could consume the rest.”

Even the former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke doesn’t escape Lange’s splenetic pen. “His language was frequently obscene and he was steeped in the culture of mateship, which for me was never a good starting point,” the patrician Lange writes of his populist colleague.

Hawke, 75, could respond in kind. He once reportedly said of a rival: “He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and he uses it to stab his colleagues in the back.”

On parade

How not to fight a “war on terror”. Things are getting increasingly nasty in Thailand’s Muslim south, where separatist insurgents and security forces are locked in deadly game of cat and mouse.

Thai security forces occasionally do get a break such as that last week, when 11 Muslim men, supposedly suspected insurgents, turned themselves in to Thai authorities.

Eager to trumpet this rare bit of good news, Pracha Therat, the governor of Narathiwat, one of the affected provinces, called the Thai media and paraded the suspects, who were all prodded to smile for the cameras.

It was a demonstration to show the Thai Buddhist majority that local officials are making progress winning over Muslim hearts and minds. Impressing Thaksin Shinawatra, the notoriously impatient Thai prime minister, may also have been on the governor’s mind.

But security and intelligence officials were less than pleased at the high-profile show. They suggested the 11 could have had a more valuable role as informers and as covert intelligence gatherers in the south, rather than being used as props for cheap publicity stunts.

Flying test

The European Union and the US are expected to present this week their nominees for the two World Trade Organisation arbitration panels that will have the tough task of ruling in the dispute over aircraft subsidies to Boeing and Airbus.

Disagreements about the choice of WTO panel nominees are common and this dispute, the largest in the body’s history, is expected to be no exception. So the ultimate decision about the selection of arbitrators is likely to rest with the WTO’s director-general, the outgoing Supachai Panitchpakdi.

While the EU and the US are at loggerheads about almost every aspect of the sensitive aircraft dossier, one point on which they appear to be united is the need to settle the panel nominations before the end of the month, when the Thai is to step down and to be replaced by Pascal Lamy, the EU’s former trade commissioner.

If not, it would be a tough litmus test of Lamy’s ability to appear impartial, given the time and energy he devoted to defending the European case in the aircraft spat during his stint in Brussels.

Turkey shoot

Turkey is feeling increasingly unwelcomed by the European Union after Dominique de Villepin, the new French prime minister, questioned whether it could begin talks to join the bloc on October 3 without recognising Cyprus, the island divided between Turkish and Greek speakers by Turkish invasion 30 years ago.

Ankara says it has met the terms to start talks by extending its customs agreement with the EU to Cyprus.

Now the European Commission has appointed Themis Themistocleous, a Greek Cypriot, to head its office in Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot government still blocks Commission proposals to start direct trade and hand out €259m in financial aid to the Turkish Cypriot republic in north Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey.

In his current job as director of the Cyprus news agency, a Greek Cypriot government-controlled outfit, he has followed the official policy of rubbishing Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader and his fellow-politicians. He’s also thought to oppose the United Nations-backed Cyprus peace plan, which the north supports and the south does not.

The Commission said yesterday Themistocleous was the best of more than 30 applicants because of his media experience.

Cool on Koizumi

Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s reformist prime minister, appears to have pushed the traditionalist society too far too fast and now faces an early election.

He made two modernising mistakes. One was his Cool Biz campaign, which involved dispensing with his tie but only exacerbated his exotic image; expect it to return on the campaign trail. The other was the postal ballot.

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