Political sketch: after the hors d'oeuvres, stuffed Murdoch

As theatre of anticipation it was wonderful.

College Green had more tents that a boy scouts jamboree as the world's press gathered for the ritual disemboweling of the Great Dictator .But when Rupert turned up it looked we might be just in time to celebrate his departure.

Floors had no doubt been strengthened and roofs raised in anticipation of the appearance of the ogre who frightened the world for almost half acentury but all that turned up was an 80-year-old man who looked as if he was missing his nap.

He turned up with his boy James and a cast of consiglieri who combined salaries probably make them worth more than the building the meeting was being held in.

It was a day of such excitement that the press was literally beside itself. The BBC, so often the target of Murdoch bile, even cancelled The Weakest Link to bring it to the nations attention.

As it was the best story of the day came in noises off and a right hander from Wendi Murdoch which is just as well as the rest if the performance will only look good in the edited highlights.

As theatre of anticipation it was wonderful. The Murdochs were due in the dock at 2.30 but kindly parliamentary authorities, mindful of their place in history laid on a wonderful hors d'oeuvres of a brace of seared and slightly sautéed policemen.

Not content with giving them a good kicking last week MPs had outgoing Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and John no-longer-of-the-Yard- Yates back in to quiz them further.

This High Noon confrontation allowed them to not answer why giving the former deputy editor of the News of the World Neil "Wolfman"
Wallis £1,000 a day for advice on PR will go down in history as the worst example of bad PR since Dave decided Andy Coulson should get the gig at Number 10.

There was one new revelation but this time not from the cops. Instead chairman Keith Vaz, as unctuous as ever, revealed he had something in common with the Met chief: namely he too was best pals with the health farm owner who provided £12,000 of free care to Sir Paul.

That out of the way the tricoteuse turned their attention to the promised main course, stuffed Murdoch.

It was obvious almost immediately that there wasn't much to nibble on the old scrawny bird but the young one had plenty of flesh on him.

Rupert tried to get in his apologies from the start: "This is the most humble day of my life," said the mogul who clearly had been practicing the unfamiliar "h" word but was quickly cut off by Culture Committee chairman John Whittingdale.

MP Whittingdale knew he had to get in quick since he has previous on Rupert having declared him his media hero.No sign of that here as stern John said statements would come later.

Instead he threw the ball to Labour's Tom Watson whose dogged determination over hacking has more than rescued what was in the past a moribund political career despite fears of waking up and finding a horse's head next to him in bed.

As Tom bared his teeth James valiantly tried to deflect his attention from his dad who was staring absent mindedly at the table. But Tom had been waiting a long time for his chance.

Did you not know what was going on in your own organisation demanded Tom. "Not really," was the less than energetic reply. In fact it became almost sad as the octagenarian seemed lost in thought as he tried to come up with answers.

Both Murdochs had clearly been told to keep their cool and they sat there like two of the wise monkeys (Rebekah, now cast into the outer darkness, was due on stage later.)

As it was squirming James ended up answering or dodging most of the questions from MPs who after this performance must never give up the day job whatever it is.

James, wearing one of those posh tans you don't get from a fortnight in Benidorm, has the posh American accent to go with it and had certainly learned the corporate "It wasn't me guv" mantra off by heart Rupert woke up now and again when the MPs were getting a bit hard on his boy but generally kept his head down and his poking finger flat under the watchful eye of the missus.

Did he accept responsibility for this fiasco. "No" was one of his more fulsome replies.Had he thought of quitting? "No" again as if anyone in Murdoch towers had even thought that idea a starter.

Time crawled by as committee members tried to ask the questions they must have overheard on the tube home but there was neither heat nor light until James was asked if his company had been picking up the legal bills of chief criminal Glen Mulcaire even after his prison sentence. The simple answer seems to be yes although the words uttered bore only a passing relationship to this fact.

James mumbled, his vowels shortened and dad looked alarmed. It was hard to know if this was a double act or a medical condition.

Then, in the best traditions of Fleet Street, the non-story rode to the rescue.

Despite the earlier presence of the nation's ex top coppers and security you felt was impregnable up popped a lad with a plate full of shaving cream. The cameras went off as tomorrow's headlines were written in white foam.

Cynics will say it was a News of the World stunt but that paper, as we know, is no more.

After a short break we resumed and Rupert was roundly thanked for staying around to dodge a few more questions.Then he went home.

Up next lonely and forlorn was the not quite so flame-haired ex-chief executive who only last week Rupert said he would defend to the hilt.

She seemed to be in denial as she talked about "our company" and "our response" The only friend Rebekah had with her was "my learned " there to make sure the hole she is already in gets no bigger.

Meanwhile Dave was in Nigeria.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage