IMPORTED ALP spin doctor John McTernan — fresh from an obvious failure to sell Julia Gillard to Australians when she was Prime Minister — has had another go in the Murdoch press today; his article stinks of self-indulgence, and represents the petulant and irrelevant bleatings of an irrelevant man.
Who cares what John McTernan thinks?
I read with some incredulity (and a derisive snort) an op-ed piece that has appeared today in Murdoch publications across the country; for reasons best known to himself, McTernan seems to think people want to hear about “The Julia I Know And Love.”
And as if that isn’t bad enough, there is an accusatory undertone summed up in the second half of the headline which informs the reader, that of Gillard, they never really met her.
The first point I make is that we are approaching a point (if we haven’t already passed it) where political staffers in Australia — especially, but not exclusively, on the Labor side — are accorded a public profile, a degree of celebrity, and credibility in their own right.
I find this troubling; after all, we elect Parliamentarians to lead and govern and serve, and their staff in my view ought to work for those MPs behind the scenes, unseen and unheard, and certainly not assuming a public role to advance the political causes of their masters, to say nothing of their own personal agenda.
And the flipside is that the bovverish, spiv mentality that many such staffers indulge in is applicable only to the bubble in which they dwell; you only have to go and look at Twitter to see what a lot of political staffers (on the public payroll) spend much of their time doing.
John McTernan, however, is a different case altogether.
Brought to Australia in 2011 by the Gillard government, he has been widely touted as “a guru” on political strategy and communications, a moniker apparently earned working for British Labour during the Prime Ministership of Tony Blair.
To be candid, it wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have been difficult for any moderately competent Labour operative to forge “a name” for themselves during the first two terms of the Blair administration; riding high in public favour and faced by a moribund Conservative Party opposition, Blair’s government was never seriously challenged between its election in 1997 and its re-election to a third term in 2005.
Perhaps a better indicator of things to come can be found on McTernan’s Wikipedia page (yes, he has one), which notes that he ran Labour’s campaign for elections for the Scottish Parliament in early 2007.
Labour lost power in Scotland at that election.
And to be brutal, the only valid judgement that can be made of Julia Gillard’s period as Prime Minister is that from a public relations perspective, it was an unmitigated disaster.
Yes, she made that dreadful and ethically fraudulent misogyny speech in the House of Representatives and it trended around the world, but the small detail that it was made in the defence of sexist, misogynistic grub Peter Slipper over his continued tenure as Speaker was conveniently omitted and/or ignored by a fawning and slavering press pack.
But that dubious exception aside, there is no evidence that Gillard ever achieved any cut-through as Prime Minister, and for that McTernan must take his share of the blame.
This rather neatly brings us to today’s column in the Murdoch media.
I think most of us are mature enough to acknowledge that Gillard is just as human as anyone else, despite her politics, and is probably nice enough on a personal level — although for those disinclined to slobber blindly and blithely over every word, that disgusting “misogyny” speech sorely tested the ability of many to make the distinction.
It is true that by repute she is warm, and charming, and possessed of a killer sense of humour: attributes rarely (if ever) on display when she was Prime Minister.
But even for the spiv or the bovver boy, any relevance in attempting to sell the public on these characteristics has now passed.
Gillard has been thrown out of the Prime Ministership by her party as a direct result of her utter inability to generate any electoral traction whatsoever for her government.
She was one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers to ever hold office.
In terms of its daily political skills and its ability to sell a message, her Prime Ministership was probably less competent than that of Sir William McMahon.
In terms of credibility in the office, McMahon’s was higher — the ultimate indictment.
And whose responsibility were all of these things? I wonder.
McTernan might think there’s something to be gained, even as Gillard prepares to leave Parliament altogether, by informing us that she learnt to type as a teenager.
He might think that her public image might be rehabilitated by the retelling of a few weak jokes she made in her press conferences.
Or perhaps he thinks his little stories of things the general public never saw might make it all better, creating (on his say so) the affection and respect she never generated for herself based on what the voting public saw during her tenure in office.
Whatever his motivation, McTernan’s waffling diatribe is of no value whatsoever, and adds nothing to the political debate.
But most of all, I come back to where I started: who cares what he thinks?
He’s a backroom spiv recruited from another country to bolster Gillard’s effectiveness as a communicator: others can draw their conclusions as to the effectiveness of this enterprise.
And if McTernan is suffering from what former Foreign minister Gareth Evans once described as “relevance deprivation syndrome” I can only point my finger.
North-west, about 12,000 miles north-west in fact; back to Britain and back to British Labour, where another apparent failure in the making (Ed Miliband) seems to be well on his way to losing an election to the Conservative Party in 2015 that should, by orthodox political standards, be Labour’s for the taking.
Miliband is in dire need of help, when he can only manage a six-point lead over the Conservative Party, and when the accepted wisdom of British politics is that it should be more like 20 points at this stage of the cycle to offer a reasonable prospect of success.
McTernan, surely, would be just the man for the job.
Instead, it seems we are slated to hear more from him, with news he is to become a regular writer for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.
This column will monitor his output in such a role closely, but if his piece on Gillard today is a reliable indicator I’d be telling him not to bother.
And, seriously, asking the question: does anyone really care what he thinks?