All your questions answered about John McTernan, ace political strategist and spin doctor employed by Labour’s Scottish branch, (Honours D.Failure) keen to guide neo-Liberal-Blairite Labour to a victorious win in Scotland at the next General Election – but guaranteed to fail, again. Indeed, everything he touches turns to pewter.
Question: What’s his background?
Answer: Scots assume he’s Scottish because of his accent but he was born in London in 1959. He was policy adviser for the ex-BBC Radio Scotland, Jesuit trained dead-head, James Boyle, who gave us the moribund anti-creative Creative Scotland. Later he became special adviser to Harriet Harmon when she was in charge of Social Security.
Q: Programmed by Labour from the get-go?
A: There’s more. He was a Labour UK adviser on health, welfare, regeneration, defence and Scotland; and was Tony Blair’s director of political operations. As director of communications he worked on the 2007 Australian Labour party (spelled Labor) general election campaign before accepting Jim Murphy’s poisoned chalice to return to the UK to help resurrect Murphy’s image – scratch that – I mean Labour’s fortunes.
Q: Another messiah for Labour’s version of ‘socialism’ as perverted by Blair and Brown?
A: You could say that; others describe him as Pinocchio with a nasty temper.
Q: Pinocchio, the wooden puppet with a nose that grew and grew when he lied?
A: The very same, only McTernan recognised early in his career that there is no such thing as a lie in the political world. There are only half-truths, evasions, and reckless boasts.
Q: How did he get on as ‘saviour’ of Julia Gillard’s political career, in Australia?
A: In a word – disastrously. She was ousted by her own colleagues.
Q: Yet he manage to secure gainful employment with the Aussie government?
A: Described as a ‘genius,’ probably by himself, ‘Gizzard’, as the accident prone Aussie leader was nicknamed, took him at face value when her previous guru stepped down.
Q: Was he a beach loving, beer swilling, outdoors guy looking for sun?
A: No, more a wine imbibing, indoors, foul-mouthed cusser, credited as the real model for Malcolm Tucker of BBC political satire show fame. He extricated himself from the war between Blair and Brown already infamous for his sharp tongue and hurling abuse at staff.
Q: Twenty-twenty hindsight – you’re too harsh.
A: I wish. A veteran union leader and former chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, Bob Thomson, was reported to have said at the time of his Aussie hiring, ”All I can say is, god help the Australian Labor Party.” Another ‘anonymous’ source was reported as saying of his hire: “Oh, he can make enemies; fuck, can he make enemies”.
Q: Spin doctors are hard-working journalists. What’s his MO?
A: To McTernan half of life is fucked up, the other half is fixing it.
Q: You spoke a cuss word. Give me an instance of his cussing.
A: By that you mean I gave an example?
Q: Don’t be a smartass. He can’t be as bad as people paint him.
A: Being liked is not his job; that’s for the politician. Okay, here’s an example: In one particular office-wide email sent by the chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Gillard’s office about desk tidiness, McTernan replied to a quip about his own office space from a junior staff member. “C***, you will be c**ted too”.
Q: Oh, dear. Any more skinny from Down Under?
A: The next month McTernan was “caught out lying trying to secure a job” before Gillard lost her job as Labor leader. According to 2GB radio host Ben Fordham, McTernan had expressed interest in working for the station during a meeting between the pair at the State of Origin football match. Fordham said McTernan stated during a conversation: “You might even want me to do a regular spot on your show next year if we lose the election.” But Mr McTernan responded a simple “no” in a text when asked specifically if he had offered his services to the radio show. Fordham later revealed that McTernan then texted him to say: “Your tweet has gone viral, I thought what goes on Origin stays on Origin.”
Q: Pinocchio syndrome. Not liked by Australians, then?
A: I’ll leave comments to them; a good many read this site each day.
Q: So, how did he leave Australia?
A: By plane- just joshing! You mean why did he leave? Probably because Labor got wiped out at the next election, and one of the most right-wing premier’s took over, Tony Abbott.
Q: The term right-wing is catch-all generality. Can you be more specific?
A: You’ve a short memory. Abbott sucked up to Cameron by insulting Scotland over its hopes to regain independence, and then shocked Australia by awarding the Duke of Edinburgh with a knighthood. The husband of the monarch, a man who has everything, who can barely stand up for all the medals, gold braid and epaulettes on his navy uniform hardly needs another gong. It’s like tossing a sardine to a walrus.
Q: How in hell’s name did McTernan manage to get a post as a political strategist?
A: Employers have a technique of writing a glowing reference … to get rid of you, you know, let the next chump take the hit. He has a First Class Honours degree in Street Bullying. He’s the sort of aggressor to bollock his psychoanalyst for digging into his private life. As with all PR gurus they are not elected to the post. We have no control over them. Think of Brown’s help mate Damian McBride and his little internet tricks and you’ll understand. Some people find the whole process stinks, makes politics uglier than it is.
Q: And an ugly mug, horrible teeth, and clammy skin.
A: Not his best attributes. Not a man best seen during the day, and come to think of it, not best seen at night either.
Q: What’s his worst political statement?
A: He said, “We had to topple Saddam – now let’s go back to rescue democracy!”
Q: A version of ‘mission accomplished’. That bad?
A: Worse. He thought we should “Be thankful for Tony Blair, and his money.”
Q: And what clangers did he drop promoting Labour?
A: Batting for Labour Scotland he opined, “There will be no referendum.” Later he added, “There is a rumour Labour is facing a wipe out in Scotland at the General Election. This is wrong. Here is why. First we won, yes won the referendum. SNP lost. We will win in Scotland, 2015.” That’s the highly abbreviated version to save him more embarrassment.
Q: But as ‘saviour’ of Murphy he was a disaster!
A: That’s a statement of fact not a question. Maybe he worked for a bowl of rice a day. Labour in Scotland was poverty-stricken by the time he arrived. Or perhaps it was a case of the blind leading the blind. Murphy’s judgment was clouded by hating half of Scotland, and all of the SNP. He had no inclination to observe and assess. But he and McTernan had one thing in common.
Q: They couldn’t take criticism?
A: Correct. When beaten in Twitter banter McTernan would stop the discussion with “Your point makes my case for me,” when in fact he had made no case at all, he had lost the argument. He’s protected by a thick coating of vanity.
Q: After Australian Labor got impaled surely he acquired wisdom?
A: Erm, no. His advice is irony writ large. I paraphrase. “You worked just as hard as the other side, but lost. There’s no adrenaline rush to sustain – think of the losing side in a tight footy final. And you know that no-one is listening to you. Why not just take a break for a while? After all, nothing will have changed when you come back.”
Q: But the entire UK political landscape has altered beyond recognition!
A: Yup. Forever.
Q: When he’s exposed as inept and full of crap what happens then?
A: Ask a hit man to do a ‘job’, he won’t leave until he gets paid even if he screws up.
Q: I get the impression he dislikes being a ‘silent behind-the-scenes’ man, yes?
A: Not in his character. He will always, inevitably, find a way to be part of the story. And in that, as you can read here, he is always successful.