For readers of this blog who don’t know, John McTernan is a well-known Labour political adviser. He goes on telly a lot. In my view, he’s clever and the kind of junior political obsessive every leader needs in his or her team. Just, for God’s sake, under someone else’s tight management. He’s just written an open memo to Jeremy Corbyn in the New Statesman. It’s hilarious, the reasons for which might not be obvious to readers at first rush. It’s worth taking the time to read it, though. The link’s in the sixth paragraph below, and what follows is by way of dramatic build-up.

A thing to note about John McTernan is that he’s a kind of reverse Midas. The CV at his Wikipedia page is remarkable in this respect. It begins when he replaced Pat McFadden, who became an MP at the election, as Tony Blair’s political secretary in 2005. Readers might remember that 2005-07 is when the wheels came off Blair and Labour. As a Blairite, there was no place for him in Gordon Brown’s Downing Street so he was moved to Scotland to be the brains behind the 2007 campaign, which Scottish Labour famously lost to an SNP which has been in power ever since. For a few years, he pottered around in various jobs provided by patrons, and wrote for the pretty awful and very Tory Scotsman. In 2011, he went to work as then-Australian prime minister Julia Gillard’s communications director. Inevitably, Ms Gillard’s short premiership ended in defeat and despair. No worries, though, cobber, by 2015 Mr McTernan was back masterminding Scottish Labour’s General Election campaign of 2015. If anything could have eclipsed his previous failures, it was this, the greatest humiliation in Labour’s history. Not just Scottish Labour or UK Labour, actually any Labour anywhere, ever.

These days, John dispenses political advice. Now, what a lot of folk do in all sorts of fields of work is give a hint of what they have to offer on social media in order to pull in some proper paying clients though the renown acquired. Like lawyers doing pro bono work and pollster doing stuff at election time, it’s really all about money. That, and vanity, is why professional folk go on telly and radio.

So here’s a hint of what’s on offer with John. Here he is, as a Labour guy, explaining why the Tories should crush the unions ‘once and for all’. Here he is giving his expert opinion that Hillary Clinton can’t lose;  here he is very publicly calling out Wings/Stuart Campbell on his failure to take a bet on the subject, and here he is finally paying up on a bet in respect of that ‘Hillary can’t lose’ thing following legal action by Wings/Stu Campell. For a reference with great contemporaneous relevance, here he is in 2015 explaining on BBC Newsnight that Tory Chancellor George Osborne wasn’t radical enough – he should merge the police with the fire service because; “THERE ARE NO FIRES ANYMORE”.

So, er, here’s the Fire Brigade Union’s prophetic response. And finally, for now, here’s McTernan’s subsequent comment on Twitter re-iterating his ‘fires don’t happen anymore’ riff, and throwing in the additional idea that fire prevention is also bollocks.

So, now to what is essentially a McTernan job application; i.e. his open letter in the New Statesman. The letter follows many comments on his part that a Corbyn win would be the worst of all worlds, but then this cynical but likely correct piece for the Telegraph (paywall) explaining why everything he’s ever said and done was incompetent bollocks.  In the end, though, the job application McTernan’s filling here, courtesy of the NS, is for consultancy work from people who see his name in the papers.

The letter is styled as a memo to Jeremy Corbyn on how to beat the Tories. One thing immediately strike the reader; How in God’s name would John McTernan know how to win an election?

Moving on, though, and obviously readers here will be able to have fun with their own unique textual analyses – there’s certainly bags of material – there’s: “punch the bruise” – the bruise is the UK’s female prime minister. There’s; “now is the time for a ‘prawn cocktail initiative with business leaders (by Jeremy Corbyn)”. Think about that one just for a moment. Then there’s McTernan imploring Corbyn to “learn the lesson of Australia” in the form of the excellent Tony Abbott. That’s Tony Abbott, the Tory (Australian Liberal) prime minister who had a historically noteworthy crash and burn after a disastrous two years in power.

There’s also the point where McTernan advises ‘Corbyn’ that ‘when Theresa May’s grip on power falters then The Queen will ask you to form a government”. WTF? Does he seriously believe this nonsense? If May were unable to get the Queens Speech through she’d immediately resign and the Tories would replace her. The Queen would ask the new leader of the largest group in parliament, The Tories, to form a new government. And if they couldn’t, then there’d be a new election because if McTernan thinks the DUP are going to vote for a Jeremy Corbyn premiership then he needs to go back and talk to a few folk in Northern Ireland.

Perhaps the choicest quotes, though, are the ones where he completely ignores that if George Osborne had followed his (McTernan’s) radical advice that fires don’t happen any more then Osborne would today be more likely to be in jail than running the Evening Standard:

“There are questions in the public interest which may need to be raised about the fire at Grenfell Tower”. Really? Very insightful. And of course one those, admittedly lesser, questions is why John McTernan does not think that Jeremy Corbyn paying any attention at all to an adviser who once said that ‘there are no fires anymore’ would itself be deeply damaging to the Labour Party?

“Burn up the road”, says McTernan at the end of his note, wilfully blind to his own ludicrous comments on fire and the fire brigade as seen from the present day.

The lesson in all of this for Scottish Labour, perhaps, is that McTernan is everything which has failed you. He is part of an axis which includes The New Statesman and those many leading members of Scottish Labour which actively hoped for a Tory resurgence in Scotland. These are the people who cheered when Tories beat SNP MPs – those very Tories which enabled Theresa May to cling to office.

Indeed, it is perfectly possible to view the Tory administration of the moment as a rare success for McTernan. After all, it relied on precisely Scottish Labour’s priority of preferring Tories wins to SNP ones, thus ensuring that Scottish Tories could support a failing Tory prime minister rather than SNP MPs supporting a rising and popular Labour one.

Enough said.

Memo to Jeremy Corbyn: Read every word of John McTernan’s advice. In a quiet moment away from the stresses and horrors of the last few days, it’ll make you smile. And one day, when you can afford the luxury, it’s make you laugh and laugh and laugh. And laughter is, of course, always the best medicine.




13 Responses to A very special ‘special adviser’ indeed.
  1. Thanks for this article.
    I didn’t know about this guy, but he is in .. good company; people with demostrable incompetence in running campaigns, but having the cheek to offer advice eg ex-leaders like Neil Kinock (for goodness sake) and Gordon Brown, repeatedly advising us on how to win elections and why Corbyn is unelectable.
    Until now I thought that the most absurd was
    Peter Mandelson; in case anyone has forgotten he is the one who back then had .. “masterminded!!” Kinock’s disastrous election campaigns (remember “snatcing defeat from the jaws of victory”?). After being wisely sidelined by Blair, he continued .. “masterminding” spectacular defeats (like the campaign for the equally disastrous Jack Dromey challenge againsBill Morris), whilst on a personal level he managed to lose his NEC seat to Ken Livingstone and to repeatedly get worst results in his own parliamentary seat than labour was achieving in all 5 neighbouring contituencies. But he has the cheek to still pop up and advise us on how to make labour electable.
    Having read your article I am now wondering whether your guy is even more absurd than Mandelson.

    • Mandleson’s a very clever strategist, no doubt in my view. McTernan’s more of a handy guy in the office who’s strength has little to do with larger vision about how to win elections. His comments about fire really underline how off the mark he is on big issues. I think his media exposure comes from the fact that he’s prepared to go on when most people are keeping their heads down.

  2. Ah Eric, let’s cut to the chase. In common parlance McTeirnan sounds like an absolute are hole.

    Need anyone say more.

  3. Eric Joyce starts his article by saying that John McTernan is “clever and the kind of junior political obsessive every leader needs in his or her team”. He devotes the rest of the piece to proving himself a very poor judge of character. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take from that.

    • Thanks, Peter. There’s no doubt he’s clever. And it’s perfectly normal to have someone in a bigger team who’s pretty off the wall but comes up with creative stuff which might be great and might be mad. Make of the piece what you will – truly – but my wider point, I guess, is that McTernan is a disaster at the stuff for which his punditry is in some demand. Moreover, he represents a train of thought prevent within Scottish Labour’s present leadership that it’s better to have a Tory UK government than an independent Scottish one to the extent that they would rather be in league with the Tories than in any kind of relationship with the SNP.

    • Nothing tickles my fancy more than a:

      Clever Fool

  4. The damning part is, there is no shortage of media outlets from TV to press willing to give Mr McTernan a platform to spread his brand of right wing Blairisim & now in the shape of Mr Rodan (a pound shop McTernan) Labour in Scotland have jumped out of the fire & into the frying pan.. #Solidarity

  5. “Finally, if you really need anymore, here he is joking about it all just that bit more.” – the link is to a parody account (easy to see why you’d think it real).

    • Ah, thanks for that. I’ll take it out – I usually leave errors in but in this case it’s prob best removed.

  6. This man has an unerring record in mispredicting political events in Europe and Australia.

    Whatever he say or predicts you could bet the opposite we will happen.

    I wonder if one of the Bookies have the guts to offer odds

  7. Jaw and Drop.

    Midas touch turns to turd touch. No – he’s a curse on any political position. No midas ever.

    But he has said Scotland will never be independent .. so theres silver in the turd.


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