Andy McSmith's Diary: Spin master hopes Julia Gillard can bounce back with a kangaroo knit for a king

Our man in Westminster

John McTernan, once one of Tony Blair’s political  advisers, is assumed to be the brain behind the latest bizarre photo shoot featuring Julia Gillard, Australia’s Prime Minister. Ms Gillard posed for the magazine Women’s Weekly sitting in a gaudily embroidered armchair, her dog Reuben at her feet, balls of wool and a jar of knitting needles strategically spread over a grey carpeted floor, knitting. The text discloses that she is knitting a little kangaroo, as a present for the baby who is shortly to be born to the Duchess of Cambridge.

One of the many oddities about the shoot is that Ms Gillard declared three years ago that when the reign of the present Queen ends, Australia should become a republic. She is prepared, therefore, to give the royal baby a knitted kangaroo, but not the crown of Australia.

Right now, Ms Gillard is facing a general election at which – according to the polls – she and the Labor Party she leads will be defeated. The polls are so bad that some Labor MPs are calling for a last-minute coup to bring back their previous leader, Kevin Rudd.

If she does lose, Australia’s political journalists,  notably those working for Rupert Murdoch, will presumably end their obsession with McTernan, who is viewed Down Under as a living counterpart to the fictional Malcolm Tucker.

Last year, a Sydney radio host, Ross Greenwood, took a 9.30pm call from McTernan, who wanted an inaccuracy corrected. “You know, people have a British BBC thing called The Thick of It which is supposed to be a spin doctor for the prime minister, a Scottish spin doctor, loosely modelled on Alastair Campbell and apparently John McTernan,” Mr Greenwood said later.

“Now, this bloke just uses a tirade of abuse the whole time. Well, it almost seemed to me like I was in an episode of The Thick of It when this was taking place… I would say in 12 minutes on the phone with him, I reckon the F-bomb was dropped at least 30 times.”

However, the idea that McTernan was a model for Malcolm Tucker is a purely Australian conceit. When he was spin doctoring in the UK, alongside Campbell, Charlie Whelan, Damian McBride etc, he was considered to be one of the politer members of that tribe.

Simple job of choosing a replacement for Eric Joyce more like hard Labour

The Labour Party is making a pig’s ear out of choosing a replacement for Eric Joyce, the MP for Falkirk who brought his political career to an early conclusion by swinging his fists in a House of Commons bar.

One person with a good chance of securing the seat Mr Joyce will  vacate at the election was Gregor Poynter, UK Political Director of the technology firm Blue State Digital, and husband of the Labour MP Gemma Doyle, who is deputy to the shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy, a man who has considerable clout within the Scottish Labour Party.

But then party headquarters  decided that Falkirk should have an all-women shortlist, and attention switched to Karie Murphy, a former union official, who is office manager for the Labour vice chairman, Tom Watson, and is on good terms with Len McCluskey, leader of Britain’s biggest union, Unite.

Unite began recruiting union members in Falkirk to the party so that they could vote in the selection contest, which looked a lot like vote fixing. Their supporters say they were not the only ones recruiting. The whole process has now been suspended.

Watson has suggested holding a selection process in which only those who were party members at the time of Joyce’s downfall would have a vote.

Union bosses did not always  have to go to such lengths to turn their nominees into Labour MPs. They used to control selected  constituency parties by placing union delegates on party  committees, before the late John Smith introduced one-member, one-vote selections.

There was also a notorious case in Glasgow when a majority of party members in one constituency voted to sack their sitting MP, but under a deal brokered by the Scottish TUC, the unions used their combined voting strength to save his career. His name was George Galloway.

Crack KGB agents keeping an eye on Cameron’s Cabinet

Tory MPs Sam Gyimah, Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, and John Hayes, the Minister Without Portfolio known to his colleagues as Shrek, all have roles as advisors to David Cameron, allowing them be at Cabinet meetings, in a row, looking, one Cabinet minister reckons, like Soviet agents.

He said: “They are a reminder of the days when the KGB went around in groups of three: one who could read, one who could write, and one to keep an eye on the intellectuals.” And he added: “No prizes for guessing which one John Hayes is.”

Interesting cast at the boneheads’ Tory fringe festival

An interesting selection of signatures adorns the 40 bills placed before the Commons by a group of rebel MPs from the right-wing fringe of the Tory party. Although the lead players are the two boneheads, Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone, others flit on and off stage, putting their names to a bill here and a bill there.

The 29th bill on the list is the Prime Minister (Replacement) Bill, whose signatories include Adam Afriyie, the self-made millionaire Tory MP for Windsor. It is widely assumed that Mr Afriyie already has a replacement in mind – himself.

Roof caves in on Ukip view about British work ethic

You might think Ukip would be cheerleaders for the British work ethic, but that is not true of John Humberstone, a hotel owner who was Ukip candidate for Wrexham at the last election. He tweeted this week: “The great British work force start @ 10 tea break @ 11 lunch @ 1, bugger off home @ 4 is it any wonder we are on our knees…” Wales on Sunday reports that the roof of Mr Humberstone’s hotel was damaged by fire and he is trying to get it repaired.

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