A last-stitch bid? Storm over photo of republican Australia PM Julia Gillard knitting kangaroo for royal baby

Blair's former spin-doctor John McTernan was sure it would do wonders for her popularity - but stunt has backfired

Sydney

It's an arresting image: the Prime Minister of Australia, impeccably coiffed and styled, knitting in an armchair, her dog Reuben at her feet. Julia Gillard's chief spin-doctor, Scottish-raised John McTernan, was sure it would do wonders for her popularity. Instead, it has whipped up a storm of criticism - the latest controversy to engulf Tony Blair's former strategist.

The photograph, posed for an interview spread in the country's biggest-selling magazine, Australian Women's Weekly, and reproduced in multiple newspapers, was deemed a public relations disaster. It was also ominously reminiscent of the Dickens character Madame Defarge and the "tricoteuses" who knitted by the guillotine during the French Revolution.

The notoriously abrasive Mr McTernan, who was hired by Ms Gillard in 2011, dreamed up the idea, which he called a "no-brainer" - presumably calculating it would appeal to female voters. But like the Prime Minister's recent speech warning that abortion rights would be scaled back and women's voices silenced if the conservative opposition won power this September, it has been condemned as a cynical stunt.

In the picture, Ms Gillard - whose poll ratings, along with those of her Labor Party, are rock bottom - is knitting a kangaroo for the royal baby: an odd pose, perhaps, for a staunch republican and female leader who electrified women worldwide last year with a parliamentary speech accusing the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, of misogyny and sexism.

Mr McTernan, who helped to re-elect Mr Blair in 2005, has become a much talked about figure in Australian political circles, with some comparing his bully-boy tactics and robust language to those of Malcolm Tucker, the spin-doctor in the BBC satire The Thick of It.

After a Sydney radio host, Ross Greenwood, claimed last year that government plans to raise tax on the pension contributions of high earners would not apply to politicians, Mr McTernan phoned him and delivered a 12-minute tirade during which he allegedly "dropped the f-bomb" at least 30 times.

Questioned, more recently, about the fact he holds a "457" temporary work visa - a visa the government claims is being widely abused and is trying to crack down on - Ms Gillard's communications director called it "hardly fucking relevant". He was furious earlier this month when a radio journalist, Ben Fordham, revealed that he had "offered to do a regular spot on your show next year if we lose the election".

The Prime Minister - pictured next to a bucket of knitting needles, with balls of wool fetchingly strewn around - does enjoy knitting, which she describes, along with watching the US TV drama series Game of Thrones, as her favourite hobby.

The photo, though, simply gave her opponents new ammunition, producing headlines such as "PM's last-stich bid to woo voters". An opposition frontbencher, Christopher Pyne, declared: "We know the Prime Minister is good at spinning a yarn and now we have the photographic proof of it."

As for the guillotine assocation: come September, it is Ms Gillard herself who is facing the chop.

News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
scienceHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
scienceBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PHP / MySQL Developer (PHP, MySQL, AJAX, JQuery, MVC, HTML, XML

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: PHP / MySQL Developer (PHP, MySQL...

C# Back-End Developer (C#, .NET, ASP.NET, SQL, MVC-4, TDD, BDD)

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# Back-End Developer (C#, .NET, ...

Web Developer (C#, HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, JQuery, XML) London

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Web Developer (C#, HTML5, CSS3, J...

C# Software Developer (C#, front-end, Java, JavaScript, VB)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# Software Developer (C#, front-...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried