John McTernan

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McTernan speaking at Policy Exchange, November 2014

John McTernan (born 1959) is a British political strategist and commentator. He has been a political adviser to the Labour Party.

McTernan was Prime Minister Tony Blair's Director of Political Operations from 2005 to 2007. He then worked on the November 2007 Australian Labor Party federal election campaign.[1] From 2007 to 2010 he was special adviser to two Cabinet Ministers in Gordon Brown's Labour Government: first to Des Browne, Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Defence,[2] and then to Jim Murphy MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland from 2008 until May 2010. From June 2010 to October 2011, he was a columnist at The Scotsman, and then director of communications for the Australian Labor prime minister, Julia Gillard, from September 2011 to June 2013.[3] He was Chief of Staff to the 2014–2015 leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Jim Murphy, who resigned after the Labour Party lost all but one seat in Scotland, including Murphy's, in the 2015 general election.

Early life[edit]

McTernan was born in London and grew up in Edinburgh, and attended Firrhill High School. He studied English at the University of Edinburgh.[4]

Political career[edit]

Blair and Scottish Labour[edit]

McTernan was Political Secretary/Director of Political Operations at 10 Downing Street for Tony Blair[1] from 2005 to 2007, where he provided political management and support for the development of the government's political strategy. In 2007, McTernan was seconded to the Scottish Labour Party to run its campaign for the May 2007 Scottish Parliament election.[5][6][7]

During the 2006–07 police investigation into the Cash for Honours political scandal surrounding the Labour Party, McTernan was twice questioned, under caution, by the Metropolitan Police.[5][6][8] No criminal charges were ever brought against McTernan or anybody else.

From 2007 to 2008 he was Special Adviser to Des Browne, Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Defence.[2] He was special adviser to Jim Murphy MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland from 2008 until 2010.[9]

In January 2008, while McTernan was employed as a special adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland, it emerged that in 2002 McTernan had branded Scotland as being "narrow" and "racist" during the period he worked for the Scottish Arts Council. In an email to the then Labour MSP Karen Gillon, who was about to make a trip to Sweden, McTernan wrote: "If you’ve not been to Sweden before, I think you’ll really like it – it’s the country Scotland would be if it wasn’t narrow, Presbyterian, racist etc. etc. Social democracy in action."[10] The email was obtained by the London Sunday Times under freedom of information legislation.[11][12]

Work in Australia[edit]

In 2007 he worked on the November 2007 Australian Labor Party federal election campaign.[1]

In September 2011, he was appointed as communications director to the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard.[13] From February 2011 to October 2011, he was Thinker in Residence at the Government of South Australia.[14]

During 2012–13, a political scandal erupted over his employment. Accusations were made that Gillard had not attempted to find a suitable Australian candidate for the director of communications post, but had flouted Australia's visa process to employ John McTernan, a British citizen, on a 457 visa – a foreign workers scheme which is designed for employers who cannot find local candidates to fill jobs.[15] When a reporter from Australia's ABC News asked McTernan if he was working in Australia on a 457 visa, he replied "hardly fucking relevant".[16][17]

Later career[edit]

In January 2015, he was appointed Chief of Staff to Jim Murphy, then Scottish Labour leader, ahead of the 2015 general election, and oversaw media and policy in this role.[18]

McTernan strongly opposed Jeremy Corbyn, the eventual winner, in the 2015 Labour Party leadership election, describing Corbyn's popularity as a "strange psychological emotional spasm". He asserted: "I can’t see any case for letting him have two minutes in office, let alone two years in office because I think the damage that will be done to the Labour party in that period makes it incredibly hard to recover".[19][20] The MPs who nominated Corbyn were "moronic", according to McTernan.[21]

Following the 2016 revelations about David Cameron's earlier offshore earnings, and Corbyn's call for an investigation,[22] McTernan argued in his Daily Telegraph column that tax avoidance is an expression of basic British freedoms.[23]

In February 2016 McTernan joined the policy and media advice agency Westminster Policy Institute as an associate.[24] He continued to write a regular column for The Daily Telegraph.[25]

In November 2016, McTernan bet blogger Stuart Campbell $100 on a Clinton victory in the 2016 US presidential election, which he lost. Campbell has claimed that McTernan failed to honour the bet, and Campbell has taken court action against him.[26]

In August 2017 McTernan joined the Labour Party left-wing pressure group Momentum, set up to support Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. McTernan had previously been a critic of Momentum and of Corbyn.[27]


  1. ^ a b c "John McTernan". London. The Guardian. Retrieved 21 December 2010.
  2. ^ a b Swanson, Ian (8 December 2014). "John McTernan tipped for Alistair Darling seat bid". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  3. ^ Totaro, Paola (6 May 2012). "Julia's master of spin". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  4. ^ "John McTernan 'could succeed Alistair Darling'". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 8 December 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Honours probe quiz for No 10 aide". BBC News Scotland. 24 January 2007.
  6. ^ a b "Blair aide sent to stem SNP tide". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). 16 January 2007.
  7. ^ "Now Holyrood election chief quizzed in peerages inquiry". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). 24 January 2007.
  8. ^ "Now Holyrood election chief quizzed in peerages inquiry". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). 24 January 2007.
  9. ^ "Jim Murphy shakes up Scottish Labour's senior staff team | LabourList". LabourList. 9 January 2015. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Des Browne aide: Scotland is narrow, Presbyterian and racist". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 20 January 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  11. ^ "Labour aide brands Scotland as racist". The Australian. Sydney. 20 January 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Row over insulting email". The Herald. Glasgow. 19 January 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  13. ^ Stratton, Allegra (28 September 2011). "Ed and Ed learn tough lessons from Blair and Brown". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  14. ^ "Who is John McTernan". Adelaide Thinkers in Residence. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  15. ^ Grattan, Michelle (30 May 2012). "457 visa worker in PM office". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  16. ^ "No trace of 457 evidence found". The Australian. Sydney. 3 August 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  17. ^ "Coalition takes aim at Gillard staffer on 457 visa". ABC News. 5 March 2013.
  18. ^ Magnus Gardham (9 January 2015). "Senior Blair aide to head Jim Murphy's backroom team". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 8 April 2016. He will work alongside the party's new deputy leader, Kezia Dugdale, and oversee Scottish Labour's media and policy operations.
  19. ^ Payne, Sebastian (29 July 2015). "John McTernan: If Corbyn wins the Labour leadership, he should be deposed immediately". The Spectator. London. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  20. ^ McTernan, John (14 October 2015). "How Labour can get rid of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell - in one easy step". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  21. ^ Dathan, Matt (22 July 2015). "So, who are the 'moronic MPs' who nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership contest?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  22. ^ "David Cameron must come clean on tax, says Jeremy Corbyn". The Guardian. London. 5 April 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  23. ^ John McTernan (5 April 2016). "Tax avoidance is an expression of basic British freedoms". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  24. ^ Ian Griggs (4 February 2016). "Former Blair adviser John McTernan joins public affairs agency". PR Week. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  25. ^ "John McTernan". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  26. ^ "Political blogger takes court action against former Blair aide over Clinton bet". The Scotsman. 28 November 2016.
  27. ^ Mairs, Nicholas (13 August 2017). "Arch-Blairite John McTernan joins Momentum". PoliticsHome. Retrieved 21 March 2018.

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