Mum’s pretty happy about the results of the poll. I reckon she loves you mores than she she loves me. She’s going to vote for you heaps on election day. Dad’s decided he’s going to vote Liberal. It’s not because he doesn’t like you; he actually decided 35 years ago and hasn’t changed his mind since.

My wife is desperately confused by the current political turmoil back in Ireland. Brian Cowen’s resignation is just the cherry on the cake – in truth, I think during the year we spent in Dublin the confusing nature of Irish politics was incredibly frustrating for her. We have two major parties whose mandate is based on a civil war from almost a century ago. Although I suspect the real source of frustration was the tendency of Irish politicians to be incapable of speaking sensibly.

I would love to laugh, but to be honest following Irish politics feels like watching an incredible tragedy unfold in slow motion. So instead I have chosen to review a book focusing on Australia’s John Howard government era. I can laugh at that, surely.

Richard Berry apparently was officially asked not to write any more letters to the Prime Minister. As it happens, Dear Mark/Kim, opens with him writing to the leader of the then Labour Party Opposition, Mark Latham, making oblique reference to this period of one-sided correspondence with Howard. As the 2004 election is approaching, Berry is trying his luck with Latham, in the hope that he will finally succeed in having a famous pen-pal.

In the run-up to the election Latham’s popularity climbs and Berry has high expectations that his friend will defeat Howard. He also reveals plenty of information about his own personal life, on the offchance that Latham will take an interest, including his unusual family, his relationship with his girlfriend and his thoughts on televised footage of the Opposition leader. There is a sharp satiric tone throughout, hidden beneath the creepy stalker language of Berry’s letters. The 9th September missive is particularly bleak, with Latham’s comments in relation to taxation compared to the Beslan massacre.

Once Latham loses the election to incumbent Howard, Berry quickly loses interest in him. After all, where can he send his correspondence to if Parliament House is no longer the correct address? The Labour Party selects Kim Beazley, the leader during two previous electoral defeats. As a two-time loser, Berry does not fancy his chances against Howard, but plies him with questions in a similar manner to his attempted seduction of Latham. Somehow Beazley proves more able to discourage Berry than Latham – who at the very least sent two stock replies to his mountain of correspondence. The serial correspondent moves on, his hopes of gaining a celebrity pen-pal crushed.  Kevin ’07 is still two years away and Beazley did not last. Perhaps Richard Berry’s early abandonment of him contributed to his losing the leadership?

The Berry of these collected letters just avoids disingenuity, which makes his repeated attempts to ingratiate himself with political leaders all the more disturbing. He seems an almost harmless stalker, but his fickle affections reflect the intensity of political capital, which can be quickly eroded by random events. My only knowledge of Latham prior to reading this book was his alarming accosting of Julia Gillard live on air during the 2010 election. Oh the capriciousness of fate.

This book is wicked, sly fun. Recommended as a farcical take on Australian political reporting.

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