When come back, do not bring pie.

So m’learned colleague Natt has blogged about the recent fracas in the Commons Select Committee.

For those who missed it, here’s what happened:

Rupert and James Murdoch were answering to a Commons Select Committee about what was known by them about phone hacking at the News of the World, and the possibility of a cover up within that organisation. Several fascinating things came out.

Towards the end of that questioning, some fucknut attempted to put a shaving foam pie in Rupert Murdoch’s face. Not only did he fail, he was roundly slapped by Wendi Deng, Mr Murdoch’s wife.

Good.

Natt’s opinion, given in full here is, as far as I understand it, as follows:

1. Oh go on. It was just a little bit funny.
2. There are other problems with that select committee which you should get more angry about.

Taking them in order:

1. No, it wasn’t.

Hitting an 80-year-old man in the face with a custard pie isn’t funny. Missing an 80-year-old man in the face with a custard pie isn’t funny. Even disregarding the 80-year-old thing, custard pies aren’t funny at the best of time, and in the middle of a select committee, interrupting that select committee isn’t funny because it’s not the time or place.

It wouldn’t have been funny if he’d gone up to him and farted, it wouldn’t have been funny if he’d mimed, it wouldn’t have been funny if he’d stood up in the middle of that meeting and just that moment come up with the greatest Wildean aphorism ever about the corruption of the police and politicians and their terrible co-dependence on tabloid journalists.

It wouldn’t have been funny if he was Bill Hicks himself come down from heaven with a new routine that was better than all his others put together.

Because there’s a time and a place for everything. And a Select Committee interrogating Rupert and James Murdoch about the possible criminality of their company and how endemic it may have been is not the time or place for an interruption of that manner.

2. The interruption really and truly is the thing to get angry about.

Now, it’s entirely correct that the committee (with the notable exception of Tom Watson) weren’t the greatest interrogators ever.

But that does not excuse interrupting an event in which the Murdochs, let us not forget, were being held to account.

Now, you could certainly claim that they weren’t being held to account well. That’s your right.

It is not your right to interrupt that event because you don’t like someone there.
It is not your right to interrupt that event because you hate or despise someone there.
It is not your right to interrupt that event because you wish to show that they, too, are only human.
It is not your right to commit an act of surrealism to expose a surreal process.

None of these excuses matter.

They were being held to account, and you stopped that.

It gave Murdoch the chance to read his prepared statement. It gave people sympathy for Murdoch. For fuck’s sake, it gave me sympathy for Murdoch.

Maybe it wasn’t going as well as you liked, maybe Murdoch really is the evil man that you see in your head every waking hour, but that doesn’t matter.

Because we have a fucking process. It’s what separates us from the fucking animals.

Due process was being followed. Justice was being done, and being seen to be done.

And then, at the end of it, some fucknut comes up with a shaving-cream pie and proves his disrespect, not just for Rupert Murdoch, but for every single person who thinks that, yes, maybe justice can be done. Not instantaneously, but eventually, and correctly, and following due process of law.

So what justice should be meted out to someone with no respect for due process and the rule of law at all?

I’m not usually a believer in eye-for-an-eye justice. It leaves us all blind in the end.

However, if every time Jonathan May-Bowles were to attempt to perform a comedy routine anywhere in the world, someone were to stick a cream pie in his face?

I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit sad.

Still wouldn’t be fucking funny.

10 thoughts on “When come back, do not bring pie.”

  1. Jonathan May-Bowles is a living embodiment of Tucker’s Law:

    “If some cunt can fuck something up, that cunt will pick the worst possible time to fucking fuck it up because that cunt’s a cunt.”

  2. I was going to go to bed and answer this tomorrow, but I’m an absolute fartwit, and can’t.

    You claim I make two points. I don’t. Two points is loads, and I am a Bear of Very Little Brain.

    The first point you say I make is not one I make at all. In fact, I go so far as to say that I’m not making it in reasonably explicit language.

    To be absolutely clear. I found what Johnny Marbles did in absolutely no way funny. It didn’t amuse me in the slightest. However, pie-in-the-face is an accepted comedy trope with a history of having been funny. The fact that this human misunderstood the trope does not make it an unfunny trope.

    (Just to check: at what age does a man being hit in the face with a pie stop being funny? John Prescott was 62 when he was hit with an egg. Too old?)

    And the second point you make (which, incidentally, doesn’t answer the second point you claim I make) shows that you either were not watching or not understanding what you were seeing.

    The interruption in no way affected the procedure followed. It was just that – an interruption. Rather than the wholescale failure and dereliction of duty shown by every MP in that chamber.

    The same questions were asked in the same order. The same committee members were called on in the same order. The ‘interruption’ changed nothing in terms of what the committee achieved.

    You seem to revere the select committee system, the same system that called the Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks to give evidence on the same topic eight years ago and failed to get the truth. It is a broken system, peopled by corrupt functionaries, who just last month queued up for tickets for Rupert Murdoch’s garden party.

    You’re absolutely correct that he had no right to do what he did, but the fact that you think him more worthy of censure than a man who oversaw an organisation that allegedly engaged in criminal activity on an industrial scale, including breaking into the phones of dead teenagers says just how risible political culture has become.

    Everyone’s very eager to get in line to condemn the silly monkey boy because it allows them to avoid having to learn anything about the issues that were up for discussion. It’s easy to sound informed when it’s about a man being hit in the face with a pie. It’s less so when you should know the details of the last parliamentary report on this issue (but not much less, it’s only about 20 pages long).

    He stopped nothing. To claim he did is to fundamentally misunderstand committee procedure. The person who stopped them being held to account, and I’m more than happy to go through the video to show you when this happened, was committee chairman John Whittingdale who actually stopped them having to answer Tom Watson’s questions about their releasing people from confidentiality clauses. You know, the most important questions they were asked.

    I feel sorry for the straw man you erected. You destroyed him with such vigour. However, I humbly submit that you remain as wrong now as you were yesterday, incensed with righteous anger or not.

  3. First point: Same as a fart gag. Not funny, ever. Not funny when you’re 80, not funny when you’re 18. Not funny.

    But if we’re both agreed it’s not funny (or am I misunderstanding you here?), let’s move on to the second point.

    You say that every MP in that chamber was derelict in their duty. (I’d argue Tom Watson isn’t, but let’s let that slide for the moment.)

    The correct way of dealing with this is still not, and never will be, the use of a cream pie. Yes, that is a worse sin than failing to interrogate someone properly. Because it’s breaking the mechanism of interrogation.

    Throwing a cream pie in someone’s face at a select committee is as contemptible as doing it at PMQs, or a funeral, or a wedding.

    Do it on stage or in a film? Still won’t be funny, but at least you’re not interrupting something important.

    And I do believe that calling people to account in front of a Select Committee is important.

    Whittingdale closed down Watson’s line of questioning at the end, after the pie attack. But that question isn’t going to go away.

    And I believe that I have answered the second point I believe you’re making.

    If I understand you correctly, your position is that that Whittingdale’s failure to allow the line of questioning from Watson was more egregious than the pie attack.

    I disagree.

    We have a mechanism for interrogating people. The failure of some people to ask (or allow to be asked) the right question does not mean that the mechanism is wrong.

    The fact that the committee was able to resume afterwards does not mean that the pie did not interrupt proceedings, or that it was not a contemptible thing to do.

    I think we both want to see the correct people brought to justice. And a pie in the face is not justice, and is not helpful.

    Quite the opposite on both points, in fact.

  4. Piers, the purpose of a select committee is to gather evidence. Certain people hindered what evidence could be gathered. May-Bowles was not one of them.

    I would not say that it did not interrupt proceedings, but an interruption is not the same as a disruption. It’s plain to see that the interruption had no effect on the material evidence gathered by the committee.

    What did was:-

    * John Whittingdale ensuring the Murdochs didn’t have to answer what looked to be the most useful line of questioning of the afternoon, and giving spurious and untrue reasons for doing so.
    * The MP who used all of their questions on establishing which door Rupert Murdoch used to enter 10 Downing St.
    * Louise Mensch, who designed her questions to sound tough. They ended up being so broad that they left the Murdochs with no substantive questions to answer about their newspapers, so keen was she to talk about The Mirror.
    * Every MP who failed to follow up on Tom Watson’s line of questioning, where Rupert Murdoch claimed not to have been told about the most expensive settlements made in British legal history, made on behalf of News Of The World.

    And it’s important to elicit useful, pertinent information because it can then be used in criminal enquiries. Again, May-Bowles was not the impediment to that happening.

    By their unpreparedness, showboating, and wilful obstruction of fact-finding, all but one or two of the MPs showed nothing but contempt for Parliament and its procedures. To treat a select committee as a way of garnering soundbites for media appearances and impeding its work is what is actually harmful to the process. A process which has, in the past, shown itself uniquely credible and open to abuse by MPs who do not wish to know the truth.

    Not an idiot with an ersatz cake.

  5. I’m not claiming that evidence-gathering was disrupted in a devastating sense (as you say, the committee reconvened afterwards), nor that members of the committee did a particularly good job in gathering evidence.

    You can take issue with the competence of some members of the committee in gathering that evidence, but that doesn’t invalidate the fact that they were doing their job.

    You may dislike the questions members of the committee asked, but they were within their rights to ask them instead of the questions that you would have asked in their place.

    You may dislike (as I do) the fact that the chair closed down Tom Watson’s line of enquiry, but it’s perfectly within order for him to do so.

    The aim of a select committee is not to aid in criminal enquiries, it is to gather evidence for the House.

    Which they did.

    The fact you don’t like the choices they made doesn’t make them corrupt functionaries.

    And the fact that the Murdochs were not being held to account by a team of trained barristers (which we may hope for in the future) does not invalidate the fact that they were being held to account.

    Everything the committee asked has been made public; the replies the Murdochs gave has been made public.

    This process may not have been to your taste, but it is still more important than Mister Pie.

    Again: We have a process. You may not like that process, but it’s what we have.

    And I maintain that interrupting that process with a pie is worse than failing to ask the right questions within it.

  6. I don’t think we are going to get any closer to agreement on this.

    I fundamentally disagree with your fetishisation of a ‘process’. This is the third time this process has been used to investigate the same issue (fourth if you include the current hearings in the Home Affairs Committee), and it has yet to show any results at all, or to get us anywhere nearer the truth.

    As we saw in the expenses scandal, systems designed by MPs are not only open to abuse, but abuse of them is winked at, nodded by. The conduct of the committee during the two hours in which there was not a person with a pie getting all of the attention shows real and palpable failings of the process.

    That is the fundamental point.

    The process does not work, it has been intentionally broken. By concentrating on the sideshow rather than the actual and minuted abuse of the principles underlying parliamentary systems, you are participating further in the attempts of MPs to use this process to close ranks, to obscure rather than to elucidate, and to use parliamentary procedure as a cover for corruption.

    This is perhaps the difference between our positions. You trust MPs to act honourably within the spirit and rules of the systems they set up. I do not.

    I posit that every piece of evidence we have from recent history, from the expenses system to the inquiries into Iraq, from the ICO report of 2005, from David Blunkett’s insider trading, Mandelson’s speeding the Hindujas passport process, Blair banning all tobacco advertising in sport except in Labour donor Bernie Ecclestone’s sport, to the evidence we saw in the way MPs conducted their interview of the Murdochs. All of that evidence suggests that MPs will, when possible, abuse processes and that other MPs cannot be trusted to call them out on it.

    To be ill-prepared for your committee hearing is an abuse of process. To use a committee for grandstanding rather than information finding is an abuse of process. To curtail interesting lines of inquiry is an abuse of process. Any activity directed towards political or personal gain rather than the discovery of truths in that hearing was an abuse of process. To claim otherwise is to revere the form over its function.

    I wish I could get dewy-eyed about the Mother Of Parliaments, but I can’t. To do so would be to take on the role of beaten wife, slinking back to an abusive husband because he’s promised he’ll do better this time, in fact he’s invented a system which means he must do better. Only he has to oversee the system. They are not worthy of your trust, and their conduct shows it.

    You suggest I think they did badly because they didn’t ask the questions I wanted to hear. Quite the reverse. The questions I wanted to hear would have sounded much like the ones asked by Louise Mensch, full of sound and fury but with very little evidential meat behind them.

    They failed because they failed to use the process to the end for which it was designed, and, in doing so, it was a slap in the face of all who have some hope for parliamentary democracy.

    I also think you are mischaracterising what I am saying by suggesting that I think Mister Pie is an ‘important’ part of the process. I have never said that. I have continually said that it was silly, stupid, naive, inappropriate, and any other synonym you care to wrest from the thesaurus.

    However, I do think that you, amongst many, many others, have been successfully distracted by him from actual issues that need discussing. You are reacting in the same way you bemoan the media for reacting: latching onto the biggest, most visual, and yet irrelevant moment, and using it as the one thing you talk about from the proceedings.

  7. Agreed that this is not something we’re likely to come together on.

    But nevertheless: what is the alternative?

    By all means excoriate the people within the Select Committee for their failures. By all means rage against those who are corrupt or fools. And then make sure that they are voted out of office come the next election.

    But saying “The system is broken! They’re all corrupt self-serving monsters!” just isn’t true.

    I absolutely do believe that most people act honourably and with the best intentions most of the time. Not just MPs, but people in general.

    Some people don’t act honourably or with the best intentions. But to leap from “some people are scum” to “MPs will, when possible, abuse processes and […] other MPs cannot be trusted to call them out on it” is a leap too far for me.

    I believe the things you wish the committee had followed through on will be followed through. By the papers, by other MPs, and hopefully eventually by the courts.

    As I mentioned earlier, these are not trained attack lawyers, and this is not a court of law. I hope to see the day when the Murdochs are confronted by such. Tuesday was not that day, and was never going to be.

    Yes, I support the parliamentary process. (I’d argue with fetishisation.) Because what’s the alternative? We have to have process otherwise those with the biggest mouths and fists or the most money automatically win.

    The system is flawed. All systems are flawed. But it’s what we have.

    And saying that a system is useless because it has flaws, or that almost everyone in the system is corrupt (which you appear to be strongly implying) because some people are corrupt doesn’t seem to me to be a good basis for any type of improvement in the world in which we live.

    Your fifth paragraph also suggests that you believe (and do correct me if I’m misunderstanding you) that almost every single MP on that panel was deliberately attempting to obfuscate the truth, save the Murdochs from punishment, and cover up evidence of their own corruption.

    I don’t believe that either.

  8. “But nevertheless: what is the alternative?”

    The alternative is – and this has been my contention ever since the beginning – that we use the failures (& successes) of the Select Committee on Tuesday to analyse what does and does not work about our current system (and then campaign for the relevant reforms).

    Rather than spending all our time and energy hating on the Pie Guy. Who is irrelevant to what happened in the committee on Tuesday.

    “But it’s the system we have” is a terrible reason for not casting a critical eye on it, and it is a feeble excuse to look away from what needs to be done by parliament, and stare at the man throwing things instead, because he’s much more exciting.

  9. I’m all for looking at the flaws in the current system and campaigning to fix them.

    But I see no reason why we can’t do that *and* hate on the pie guy.

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