Hey, McTernan! Nobody Cares What You Think, Mate

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?

No Credibility: The Prime Minister, A Misogynist Pig, And A PR Hack

ANY CREDIBILITY Julia Gillard may have retained for her cynical “stand” against misogyny evaporated yesterday; not only did she return, gushing, to Kyle Sandilands and his millions of listeners on 2DayFM, but her spin doctor-in-chief intervened in a bizarre defence of the Sydney shock jock.

We looked at this two months ago, when Gillard first ventured onto Sandilands’ show; at the time I said it was obvious where Gillard is concerned that¬†principles disappear when several million listeners are on offer, even when a misogynistic pig is in charge of the show.

At least then she had a pretext of sorts: she and Sandilands were to support a children’s Easter charity together — even if it was, rather conveniently, in the immediate aftermath of the March Labor leadership non-coup which nonetheless plunged the ALP into turmoil.

This time, her attendance can only be interpreted as an attempt to milk the considerable, youth-skewed 2DayFM audience for votes.

For a leader with such a colossal credibility problem with the electorate, my first thought was to wonder what the hell her advisers were telling Gillard.

After all, the case her “misogyny” rant was built on was flimsy, fooling only the gullible to begin with and next to nobody as even they thought it through; making a beeline for studios presided over by Kyle Sandilands kicks the crutches out from beneath any concept of a crusade against sexism and misogyny with Gillard’s name attached to it at all.

Readers will know all about Sandilands, and for the few who don’t, this will bring you up to speed fairly quickly.

Yet in a bizarre twist — reminiscent of the stereotypical friend trying to help, who makes things worse in so doing — Gillard’s Scottish PR maestro John McTernan intervened this morning, issuing a statement that stoutly defended Sandilands’ character, and berating News Ltd outlets for “a vendetta against Kyle.”

Sandilands, McTernan claimed, “touches the hearts of millions of people.”

Taking aim at a report in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, McTernan said it fell to him to point out some basic rules “of comms” to its publishers.

He went on to defend Sandilands in terms of “well-known work with charity” undertaken by the shock jock, suggesting the Tele¬† “will reflect on the darts of the pygmies who sneer at success.”

McTernan — a media adviser to the previous Labour government in the UK prior to his secondment to the Prime Minister’s office in Canberra — really should have known better, his talk of basic rules “of comms” notwithstanding.

It goes without saying that what he has done represents a direct intervention — even interference — in political and media issues that would seem well beyond the remit of a media lackey in a political office.

McTernan, of all people, should have known his action would become public.

And he should have known because Gillard is on shaky enough ground as it is with all this “misogyny” rhetoric, by trying to bandy it around subsequent to her speech under privilege, and by appearing on Sandilands’ show in the first place.

This isn’t a case of the rules “of comms,” to use McTernan’s insiderish jargon; it’s a case of principles — or, rather, the complete abrogation of them Gillard seems determined to commit, having made a stand on them based on the flimsiest of pretexts in the first place.

It’s not a case of a vendetta against Sandilands (although this column has called for him to be booted off air in the past, and stands by that call); it’s a case of a misogynistic pig with a huge audience of voters hosting a Prime Minister supposedly committed to stamping out misogyny, yet fawning all over Sandilands to gain the benefit of access to his listeners.

And there is no question of the validity of the charity work Sandilands does; even a pig can render some useful service if he sees fit to do so.

No, this issue reflects, once again, squarely on Gillard.

Voters with any sympathy at all for Gillard’s moral crusading against sexism and misogyny should simply shake their heads, and accept they’ve been swindled; Gillard has no credibility on such issues, and is simply a hypocrite.

And as much as McTernan might be the adviser driving much of what Gillard says or does, the responsibility stops with Gillard; ultimately it is she who is accountable to the Australian public — not McTernan.

Of McTernan, I would simply note that not only was Labour thrown from office in 2010, it suffered its worst defeat in 30 years; and as much as he might plead that he left Number 10 well before that election, the sins of a beaten government lie in its history, and he had the ear of Tony Blair for many, many years at the top levels of British governance.

McTernan should pull his head in, and concentrate on arranging his airfare back to the UK; if he books to fly out on 15 September he is unlikely to be slugged for a change of dates.

In the end, however, this latest episode explodes once and for all the myth of Julia Gillard and her hatred of misogyny; the days’ events show rather that she is driven by expediency and self-interest — and when it comes to self-interest, she certainly stands for that…