An elderly media tycoon and the not-so-humble pie

Murdoch's news-loving Spidey-sense still tingles.

So there it was, then. The defining moment of the Hackgate hearings was not a thundering "You can't handle the truth!" from one of the main players but a foamy pie splattering into the face of an elderly media tycoon.

As the faux-custard humiliation oozed down his face, perhaps Rupert Murdoch's news-loving Spidey-sense still tingled: he must have known, despite it all, that this was the only show in town, and his humbling, via a not-so-humble pie, was complete.

It's a messy kind of protest, chucking goo at someone you don't approve of, and quite often rather counterproductive.

Ted Heath got showered with red paint on his first day as Prime Minister in 1970 (remarking "That was a stupid thing to do, wasn't it?"), then splashed with ink outside the Palais d'Egmont in Brussels in 1972.

Peter Mandelson, of course, suffered a green custard sploshing at the hands of an outraged environmentalist in 2009, one of many food-chucking incidents of the New Labour era, which saw John Prescott egged, Nick Brown lunged at with a chocolate éclair and Tony Blair pelted with a tomato. Keep a straight face, please, because it's not funny, but Robert Kilroy-Silk had a bucket of slurry thrown over him.

Maybe there's a special course that politicians can go on where they learn how to maintain their dignity while they have foodstuffs lobbed at them; perhaps it's just a skill that comes with the territory.

There is a certain ability to be able to climb onto the moral high ground with relative certainty when one is enduring a custard onslaught -- though when the icy-cool mask slips, as it did with Prescott's memorable two-punch combo aimed at a protester in Rhyl, it needn't be a disaster either. People didn't mind Prezza going toe-to-toe with a man with an egg-hurling man in double denim; it seemed, in the public's imagination, that under such provocation, all ministerial decorum could be abandoned.

I know, by the way, that I'm talking about the pie, and that by talking about the pie, I detract from "the story", which is about everything other than the pie; by doing so, even with my minuscule readership, I run the risk of, in some small way, encouraging others to take up shaving foam and a cardboard plate when all else fails.

I understand this, but a pie to the face is still a pie to the face; there's no use pretending it didn't happen, when we all saw that it did.

I suppose I should say at this point that it's a demonstration of inarticulacy to pick up an egg, or a custard pie, rather than a keyboard, or a pen: and yes, it does give your target the chance to play the victim and accuse you of being incapable of using words to make your argument.

Mind you, the only way I think Murdoch could have won us over would be if he had secreted a pie of his own into the hearing, and launched it into his attacker's face as a pre-emptive strike. That would have been brilliant, but sadly it was not to be.

The pieing rounds off a truly miserable few days for Daddy Murdoch. His empire might not be collapsing around his ears, but it's not been a golden time either. But he can't let go, and is absorbing a huge amount of limelight since the collapse of the News of the World -- possibly to save his family, possibly because that's just the way he does things. It might even lead one to suspect he's almost rather enjoying the attention.

That grinning promenade with Rebekah Brooks was one thing; the paparazzi photos of his spindly legs in tiny 1980s athletics shorts, dangerously close to an upskirt moment, was another.

Perhaps it's a dirt-eating grin of someone who knows they are on the wrong end of a tanking; perhaps it's a defiance, in the face of all of it, from someone who believes he's more sinned against than sinning; or maybe it's just a smile from someone who knew all along that these days would one day come.

We'll never know, I suspect.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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No, straight couples don't face marriage discrimination

The couple are right in law, but their complaint is ill-judged and tone-deaf. 

The Court of Appeal has struck down the case of a heterosexual couple - Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan seeking to have a civil partnership. The couple in question say they are the victims of discrimination. Are they right?

The legal question is more complex than the headlines. The government’s position is that they are waiting and seeing what the introduction of equal marriage means for the future of civil partnerships. Either civil partnerships will cease to be an option for same-sex couples or they will be extended to everyone. Judges were divided as to whether or not they should leave it for the government to decide that, or if civil partnerships should be extended to heterosexual couples. They opted to leave it to parliament, albeit by a narrow margin.

Legally, the judges agree, that the state of affairs creates a system where the law treats heterosexual and homosexual couples differently, and that this should be ended. And as far as the law is concerned, I agree. But emotionally and morally, the case of Steinfeld and Keidan stick in my craw.
Let’s remember why civil partnerships were created: to allow same-sex couples to access some of the legal protections extended to heterosexual couples in a way that could pass through the Houses of Parliament without being bogged down in too many battles with religious conservatives.

The rights that are not extended to civil partners include: a prohibition on religious readings, music or symbols. They cannot take place in religious venues, regardless of the beliefs of the owners’ rights. And people in a civil partnership cannot describe themselves as “married” on legal documents. There is no provision for separation as a result of adultery.

The rights not enjoyed by married couples in civil partnerships are: the ability to have private ceremonies without witnesses present. The reason why heterosexual marriages include provision for witnesses is the existence of forced heterosexual marriages in the United Kingdom, a rare example of a legal distinction based upon the sexuality of a couple that is grounded in fact, not prejudice or mumbo-jumbo. There is still no recognition for adultery in same-sex relationships in English law, whether you are married or in a civil partnership.  Equal marriage still has yet to be extended to Northern Ireland.

But if you are a heterosexual couple and you want to have a civil union that eschews religious messages, or patriarchal tropes, from being walked down the aisle by your father to the presence of a white wedding dress, you can. If you dislike the phrase “husband” or the word “wife”, you can use whatever word you like, in a social and a legal context. Don’t forget, too, that the courts have ruled recently in favour of couples in longstanding partnerships outside of marriage being able to access pension and other survivor benefits.

So while there is discrimination as a matter of law, it is hard to see how there is discrimination as a matter of fact for heterosexual couples. There is, however, a continuing discrimination towards homosexual couples in the divorce courts and in Northern Ireland.

It seems particularly ill-judged to claim discrimination while using the courts to gain access to an institution created as a pathway to the rights you already enjoy and can freely access, crowdfunding £35,000 along the way, particularly while there is still genuine marriage inequality between heterosexual and homosexual couples. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.