Andy McSmith's Diary: The wages of spin are … unreliable, so pitch for the next job


In this country, you can be forgiven if the name John McTernan rings no bells.

The British press never really focused on him during his time as a spin doctor for Harriet Harman and adviser to Tony Blair and others, there being so many other Labour spin doctors cluttering up Westminster. But in Australia, where he is the Political Secretary to the Labour Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, a week seldom goes by without some political hack or other running a John McTernan story, as if the sound of someone spinning in a Scottish accent is as strange to Australian ears as a didgeridoo to ours.

Yesterday’s Herald Sun, a Melbourne tabloid, was very excited about a remark that Mr McTernan made to a radio journalist during what he thought was a private conversation in the chairman’s box at a rugby league match. “You might even want me to do a regular spot on your show next year if we lose the election,” he reportedly said. This is interpreted as hard evidence that even Ms Gillard’s government knows it is heading for the rocks. Alternatively, perhaps, he was joking.

Creative approach gives wisdom to Solomon

About seven years ago, a cargo ship is believed to have delivered machinery that had not been properly cleaned to the Solomon Islands, a former British colony in the South Pacific. In it were some giant African snails which escaped and multiplied and are now causing havoc with the crops.

A theatre company has been enlisted to show the islanders how and why they should do battle with the giant snail. At last, someone has heeded the advice of Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, that in austere times those involved in the creative arts should apply their talents to helping the economy.

Lord James’s straight bat was really a googly

A footnote to the week’s debate on gay marriage. One of its opponents, the Tory peer Lord James of Blackheath, delivered a ringing warning that if gays were allowed to marry there was a “real prospect” of the “marginalisation” of heterosexuals.

He told the House of Lords: “I am particularly unimpressed by the story of the Australian sexual equality board, which received a complaint from the two opening batsmen of the Australian women’s cricket team saying that they had been dropped because they were the only non-lesbians on the team. The board wrote back and said: ‘If you think that this board exists to look after the interest of a couple of straights like you, you have got another think coming.’ That is marginalisation.”

The case that his lordship had in mind concerned not two openers, but one: Denise Annetts, who complained to the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination  board – not the “Australian sexual equality board” – that she had been dropped after encountering hostility from lesbian members. She did not claim to be the “only non-lesbian on the team”.

The board discovered that when the state’s anti-discrimination law was drafted in the 1970s, no one envisaged the possibility of a heterosexual alleging discrimination by homosexuals, and suggested that the rules might have to be changed. Apart from those details, Lord James had the facts at his fingertips. Oh, and by the way, the Annetts case was 19 years ago.

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