Turns out I spent most of today unknowingly queueing alongside the idiotic attention seeker anarchist who threw a shaving foam custard pie at Rupert Murdoch in this afternoon's Parliamentary Select Committee hearing.
He calls himself Johnnie Marbles, though he's clearly lost his. His real name is something rather posher--Jonathan May-Bowles. It seems he's both an anarchist and a peddler of small-time attention-seeking art and comedy stunts which reveal all too little talent at either. He was one of The Guardian's Top Ten Plinthers rated for their act on the Fourth Plinth "One and Other" project of Antony Gormley. His performance consisted of reading out texts of their secrets sent him by the audience. What on earth must the not so Top Plinthers have been like? Great Art, oh, yes.....
Funnily enough,The Guardian's write up on him this evening doesn't mention his being on their list of Top Plinthers. How odd. But it does tell us that he's a founder member of UKUncut, which is issuing vigorous denials that they had any foreknowledge of his stunt, although they seem to know he pulled another stunt incident in a BHS store and got into the Fortnum and Mason invasion.
I first learnt what great political theatre Select Committees can be years ago-- I used to go and hear Sir Keith Joseph being done over by the Education Select Committee when he was Minister for Education in the seventies. And I recently went to one of the best in the new Parliament-- Hague, Liam Fox, Oliver Letwin, Andrew WhatisisName i/c Overseas Aid being questioned by the Foreign Affairs SC, where we learnt that the new Defence Strategy consists of tiny forces barely able to cope with their existing commitments, so our overseas influence is now to be built by lots of overseas trips making friends and informal alliances with groups and countries we used to ignore or keep at arm's length. Like the Arab League and Bahrein.
So I decided that today's hearing by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, calling Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, might just be worth an enormously long wait, hopefully on the nice green benches outside the Committee Room in Portcullis House, whilst I got on with some paperwork or reading. I got there at around 9:25, was pointed to a queue outside Portcullis House of about thirty people and found myself behind four rather alternativey looking people-two youngish couples- with a tall very smartly dressed ginger-headed man, neat trench coat and leather satchel, who seemed to be in some sort of organizational role in relation to them.
I got into small talk with them and said I'd go and see if it was possible to sit and queue inside. "If I'm not back in twenty minutes, you'll know you can queue inside-- and will you keep my place?". And Mr Ginger talked about needing to ensure that he designated one of them to queue for him. Well, it didn't work-- they weren't letting anyone queue inside (which they usually do), but soon enough the amiable Mr Ginger turned up, tried to reinforce my request to include himself, but we ended going back to the queue, where he briefed his friends and disappeared.
So in front of me through the four hour wait on the pavement outside Portcullis House were Jonathan May-Bowles (though I didn't know his or any of their names till after the event, his girl friend (that's her in the picture above, a stereotypical anarchist-looking guy, with a Tolstoyan hair and beard-- all very amiable. We exchanged bits of chit chat from time to time. Mr Ginger appeared some hours later and waved aimiably from the other side of the press queue, but he didn't rejoin us.
They let just over 30 of us into the Select Committee Hearing room, all seated on the wooden bench at the back. The security was the usual letting us into Portcullis House. Bags put through an airport type scanner. Photos taken and an electronic arch to go through. And until May-Bowles pulled his stunt, I'd never have guessed.
Reading the online reports and the tweets after we got turned out of the hearing, they don't really convey how very poorly Rupert Murdoch performed. Long, long pauses almost every time he was asked a question. Sometimes had no idea what to say. More than once I had the strong impression he'd forgotten the sentence he'd started saying. Banging the table as he spoke was weirdly out of synch with the relatively anodyne things he was saying. He often said he didn't remember, and I didn't get the impression from his tone of voice that he was covering up. I remembered his television interview clip last week when they asked him what his priority was now he'd arrived in England to sort the News International mess. "This one", he said, putting his arm round Rebekah Brooks' shoulders. It seems to me quite likely that he couldn't remember her name at that moment. James Murdoch repeatedly butted in to try to answer for him, but was batted away by the Committee members.
If I were a News Corp shareholder (a laughable concept, but still..) I'd be calling for Rupert Murdoch to have to undergo a brain scan and in depth neurological report. Seriously. I've been around dementia and mental impairment sufferers long enough to recognise the very early stages of permanent cognitive decline when I see them. I'm gobsmacked to think of him playing such a key role in a global corporation. Tellingly, he did mention that his underlings often tell him he's talking rubbish when he tries to give them ideas.
And James Murdoch? He came across like a typical organizational suit, full of the usual obfuscation and evasiveness I'm regularly encountering in my current dealings with NHS PCT bureaucrats. Paul Waugh tweeted one of his prize lines of organizational gobbledygook:
There are thresholds of materiality where something has to be moved upstream.
This was one of the few times when Rupert outstripped his son, in this case by translating the verbiage into plain English:
Anything seen as a crisis comes to me.
So this pair are supposed to be the Evil Empire, controlling the politicians and institutions of the UK? On the basis of this performance, utterly laughable. One of the few worthwhile and revealing answers from Murdoch Senior was when he responded to a rolling dramatic question about how come he'd entered 10 Downing Street via the back door when he visited Cameron after the election: "Because I was asked to. I did what I was told." And in passing he managed to list the many times he'd visited Blair and Brown and talked about Brown's and his kids playing together. And pointed out that it was people like Blair, Brown and Cameron who travelled across continents to see him at their request, not his.
But I never got to see the end of the questioning, including Louise Mensch's questions, because that's when Mr Attention Seeker Prat Jonathan May-Bowles threw his pie stunt. I must say it was startling (but not surprising) to see Wendi Deng, Murdoch's grim-looking wife, springing furiously into action, socking him and covering him with his own shaving foam. I looked back at May-Bowles' girl friend. She was sitting quietly watching, keeping her head down, so to speak. A girl, supposedly his ex girl friend, has tweeted to say she's dumped him because of the attack. All I can say is the very pleasant and affectionate girl friend he spent the day with didn't look at all shocked or surprised. She just seemed to want to avoid drawing attention to herself. The friendly Mr Tolstoyan Beard was already being held. I told the policeman steering us out that the girlfriend had been with May-Bowles all day, and they pulled her back. I also tried to tell one policeman after another that I'd spent the day sitting alongside them, that there was a group of four of them, and another, smartly dressed man who appeared to have been involved with them and organizing them, but they weren't interested. Just wanted us all out.
I told Nick Robinson. I told Nick Davies. I told as many of the other journos I could see what I knew. You should tell the police, they said. But they don't want to know, I said. I went back and had another try. No dice. The police just wanted the public out of the area. I went into the room where the journos where being allowed to wait to re-enter the meeting-- the public were excluded after the attack.
And there was Mr Ginger, who hadn't been in the Select Committee Hearing. I pointed him out to a couple of the journos I told the story to. Too busy. And then I went home.
Thanks to Mr Attention Seeking Prat May-Bowles, it'll probably mean fewer chances for the public to get into hearings like today's. And he's even managed to get sympathy for Rupert Murdoch, who may deserve some concerned focus on his health and fitness, but not for becoming a victim of an attack.
But what sort of security is it that lets a man into one of the most open buildings of Parliament with shaving foam in his bag? That could have been caustic soda, paint stripper, poison, acid....The security apparatus is showy but totally ineffective because the contents of bags aren't searched properly. These people didn't get in through having insider help, they just queued to get in, same as I did. And I've no idea what exactly was Mr Ginger's role, but this was clearly no spontaneous attack
And as for the police turning away witnesses after an attack....Met Police, there's an email at the top of my blog if you want to contact me.