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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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital