OK, I’ll admit it. It was pretty damn funny, and it’s hard to deny that Rupert Murdoch should be somewhere near the top of anyone’s list of ‘people who richly deserve a righteous plate of shaving foam in the face’. Equally, though, it has to be said there’s something which grates about the long-awaited calling to account by our elected representatives of one of the most malign influences on our public life being disrupted by a childish prank.
Direct action can be an extremely effective tactic, even (or perhaps especially) when the action in question is something funny, eye-catching and/or a bit outrageous. But that’s primarily true when the cause or issue motivating the action is something which needs public and media attention – think Greenpeace activists dressing as polar bears to occupy the HQ of an oil company which wants to drill in the Arctic, or UKUncut (whose actions Murdoch assailant Jonnie Marbles previously participated in) turning banks into créches and comedy clubs.
The trouble is, Hackgate has already been literally headline news for weeks. The Select Committee hearing which Murdochs Senior and Junior appeared before today was probably the most-watched in Parliamentary history. The usual argument for direct actions of this type simply doesn’t apply here. In fact, there’s a fairly obvious danger of this action backfiring, since it could well divert attention away from the actual substantive issues which the scandal has brought to light. You know, the endemic disregard for the law at the biggest-selling paper in the country, the incestuously cosy relationship between that paper’s parent company, the biggest police force in the country and the office of the Prime Minister, and the deafening lack of criticism of same by anyone in a position of power or influence until very recently, despite the fact it’s been going on for years, if not decades? Yeah, those little details. (And yes, this post could easily be argued to be part of the problem. All I can say in my defence is that I wasn’t able to watch the Select Committee hearing due to being at work, so I felt I wouldn’t have much to add on that front – it’s not as if this post is taking the place of one focused on something more substantive.) It’s also worth bearing in mind that Rupert Murdoch has now been gifted with as good an excuse as he could wish for not to appear at another Parliamentary hearing, which is unlikely to do a whole lot to improve corporate and media accountability.
It may not happen like this (although currently the pie attack is being given more prominence than anything else which happened in Parliament today by the websites of pretty much every tabloid in the country, even if the BBC and the quality papers are being more restrained, so it looks unlikely). It’s possible that this time tomorrow the pie incident will be forgotten and everyone will be back to being outraged at the stuff which actually matters. But here’s the thing. That’s the best-case scenario from the point of view of those of us who want Hackgate to be the beginning of the end for Rupert Murdoch’s hold on British public life (and frankly anyone on the left no matter how radical or moderate should want that if they have any sense). There’s pretty much no way – that I can think of, at least – that Jonnie Marbles’ actions today could achieve anything more positive and meaningful than a cheap laugh. And welcome though that laugh was, I’m not sure it was worth it.