(Above, John McTernan, the Man Behind Blair)
Julia Gillard’s decision to appoint British media commentator/ political strategist/ spin doctor John McTernan to the role of her personal director of communications says all that is wrong with social democracy.
Social democracy exists to facilitate a unitary, but double-sided objective: to make capitalism acceptable to the working class, and to make the working class acceptable to capitalism.
It achieves the latter by channelling the aspirations of the working class into the capitalist institution of parliament, where they can be dealt with safely by the protocols, laws and conventions established over the centuries by the bourgeoisie.
It achieves the former by confining those aspirations to the economic system of capitalism in which each minor tweaking of the system is predicated on the continuing ownership of the decisive means of production by the minority capitalist class.
Imperialism and social democratic support for neo-liberalism
From the 1970s onwards, imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism has increasingly seen the speculative component of finance capital developing into more and more advanced forms through a combination of complicated financial “instruments” such as collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) and nano-technological innovations that have increased both the speed and volume of speculative trading.
The requirements of speculative finance capital for barrier-free trading gave rise to neo-liberalism in the political field, championed first by right-wing reactionaries such as Reagan and Thatcher, and then by social democrats such as Hawke and Keating in Australia, and Tony Blair in the UK. Indeed, Blair’s neo-liberalism represented such a qualitative break from “old” social democracy that it was christened as “New Labour”.
Despite Rudd taking a swipe at the right-wing variants of neo-liberalism in the wake of the GFC, he firmly committed his government to the task of “saving capitalism from itself”. His recipe was for a massive stimulus package in construction and infrastructure followed by a painful public belt-tightening when capitalism had recovered.
He was sacked as Prime Minister by his own colleagues when Deputy PM Julia Gillard promised to restore relations with the mining industry by wrecking the Resources Super Profits Tax proposed by Rudd.
However, Gillard has proven to be a Midas in reverse. Everything she has touched politically has turned to shit. She has the lowest approval rating of any Prime Minister; hence her appointments of comedian Corrine Grant and spin doctor John McTernan to give her the two things she so singularly lacks: humour and substance.
So who is John McTernan?
It almost says enough of him that he was Political Secretary to Tony Blair.
McTernan is a Scot, but no friend of Scottish nationalism.
He is also currently working for the South Australian government as a Thinker in Residence with a focus on the two troubled areas of health and medicine.
He has been a keynote speaker at various forums on public service reform. His neologisms include “co-design” which essentially means that governments should no longer monopolise the process of setting goals and tasks for the public sector; these should be “co-designed by the users and providers together”. It’s a rather neat new spin on the neo-liberal privatisation agenda. McTernan is no shrinking violet in this area: “I want a revolution in public services. I want an end to the public sector monopoly on provision (The Scotsman, July 5, 2011).”
Strangely, for a so-called social democrat, he has been full of praise for Thatcher’s attacks on the public sector: “Privatisation and deregulation by the Tories saved British industry”, he wrote in The Scotsman on September 28, 2011. Oh, that the Tories should have such a stridently social democratic enemy…..
Schools: enter the market, Stage Right
Gillard’s pet project has been the so-called “Education Revolution”. She has imposed the thoroughly-discredited Joel Klein’s agenda for attacks on public education in New York onto the whole of the Australian nation. Look for more of the same with McTernan advising her. He even out-Kleins Klein.
“And as for schools: well, what an awful idea that for-profit providers could come into the market. Horror of horrors, failing schools might have to close. In other words, might be driven out of business (The Scotsman, July 11, 2011).”
This sort of sneering right-wing dismissal of the problems in and prospects for under-resourced schools in low SES neighbourhoods is precisely what we might expect of an Andrew Bolt or an Alan Jones.
McTernan castigates the Welsh and the Scots for getting rid of school league tables. “Scotland must learn a lesson and bring back league tables to salvage the credibility of our education system”, he wrote in The Scotsman, 29 June 2011.
This should reassure Labor-voting educators in Australia…NOT!!!
It is part of the disservice that social democracy does to the working class and progressive movements that it promotes John McTernan and his neo-liberal views as someone who has “worked for the progressive movement for more than 25 years” (advert for a presentation by McTernan on July 9 to the social democratic organisation, Progressive Australia).
His appointment as director of communications to Julia Gillard shows the extent to which she is prepared to distance herself from any really progressive agenda as she sees out her term of office.