Opinion

Murdoch’s divorce will leave a hole in his life. Could a new prime minister fill it?

Like all true romantics, I can’t believe Jerry has split with the Pacemaker. News that Rupert Murdoch and his wife, Jerry Hall, are to divorce contradicts the lyrics of their most famous hit, confirming that the News Corp boss does, in fact, walk alone. Or at least, alone but for the aid of state-of-the-art tissue engineering, the plasma of emerging-market teens, and the cloven orthopaedic brogues that mark out the real big shots at every barefoot billionaires’ retreat.

Alas, there has been almost zero elaboration on news of this major marital sundering, broken briefly by the New York Times on Wednesday night, apparently after Jerry did not attend Rupert’s annual summer party in London. Indeed, there has been almost zero coverage of the party itself, given that guests included local supplicant Boris Johnson and, reportedly, a number of cabinet ministers. Are they all still cabinet ministers this morning? Hard to say. On the plus side, the prime minister will have been able to seek pre-authorisation for installing his wife as party chairman, were a vacancy to suddenly open up, or at the very least try and get Carrie a job as executive producer at Murdoch’s TalkTV. (More on that ratings black hole shortly.) But a lack of party pictures is a shame, particularly given today’s electoral developments. It feels much too long since we’ve seen Rupert in the same photo as the prime minister, stretched across the frame like the anamorphic skull in Holbein’s The Ambassadors.

Given how immensely sensitively other people’s relationships are handled in Rupert’s outlets, perhaps coverage of his split has been regarded as something sacrilegious to which only the profane and facetious could possibly be drawn. Consequently, it will be handled in this column.

So … what the hell happened? When Rupert and Jerry rushed down the aisle six years ago, aged 84 and 59 respectively, there was widespread suggestion that this fourth wife would see Murdoch out. See him out? Do me a favour. He’ll see out the East Antarctic ice sheet. He’ll see out the expansion of the sun (the star at the centre of our solar system, not the newspaper). It seems likely to the point of certainty that Rupert will be one of Earth’s last-surviving life forms, affectlessly inciting the tardigrades to insurrection and publishing grotesque lies about the cockroaches.

Still, six years! You’d get less for abduction, and could be out on a tag in three. That timeline at least would have seen Jerry spared the social shame of watching her gentleman caller fail to condemn a single one of his wingnut goons for using their Fox News slots to push anti-vax rhetoric during a pandemic, amplify Donald Trump’s stolen election lies, and advance any number of crazed theories about who was behind the 6 January attack on American democracy that couldn’t be traced back to the genies they spent years releasing from bottles with his blessing.

Shortly before his honeymoon, Murdoch crepitated on to social media to declare: “No more tweets for ten days or ever! Feel like the luckiest AND happiest man in the world.” Mm. In light of his no longer being the luckiest AND happiest man in the world, I think we can safely say: you’ll be back, mate. Expect a reactivation of his account in the coming weeks, a faux-deprecating return to output along the lines of: “Is this thing still on?” In short, total Gregg Wallace playbook. There’s always another wife out there somewhere: you just have to wait for her to tweet you a question about asparagus.

Speaking of which: who will be Rupert’s Catherine Howard? My preference would be for someone eye-poppingly au courant like Julia Fox, or a real Bunny Lebowski type who wants to spend his money all over town and participate in adult films with titles like PorkTV and Jurassic Cuck.

As for what Murdoch does right now, I imagine he’ll be comforted by whichever of his family members are currently speaking to him, even as they sharpen their squads for the succession by combat. Mostly, like all post breakup guys, he’ll be doing a lot of TV-watching in his pants – which makes it all the more poignant that his TalkTV venture is rating like a junk bond. I mean, I moan about Netflix, but I only spend £10.99 a month on it. Imagine spending tens of millions of pounds on a flatline, then coming to London to watch it.

Various reports about TalkTV have suggested they might relaunch it. You might as well relaunch the Titanic. “Scrape the barnacles off the grand staircase and yeah – you could definitely welcome some Tui all-inclusives. Couple of problems with the spa, but you expect that, don’t you?”

Notably for the old wizard, the very concept of TalkTV seems to have fundamentally misunderstood the outrage dynamics of the present day. If the modern British public yearn for some culture war frisson, they can simply open social media at any time of day that suits their urge, inject it into their eyeballs as required, and move on – rather than having to wait till 8pm to sit down in front of it with their supper on their knees. If this is how viewers of the infinitely more successful Fox News choose to spend their evenings, that is a matter for them. They are Americans, and we simply can’t help everybody in the world. Over here, the quite cheering thing about TalkTV’s ratings shitting the bed night after night is that Murdoch appears to have finally underestimated the British public. Quick, page the cartographers – we’ve found the Will-This-Do limit! Let’s map these coordinates asap.

Of course, no one playing with a full set of matches cares what happens to a few TV presenters. Those seeking more consequential collateral might wonder if Murdoch’s latest marital pratfall could leave his pride so wounded that he seeks the old thrills. Not one of Rupert’s papers has yet called for Boris Johnson’s resignation but, as his admirers never tire of telling us, he does like to be associated with winners. Is this loser-in-love’s wizened finger hovering even now over the “bring me a new prime minster” button? You certainly wouldn’t rule it out. But then – as always – you certainly wouldn’t expect to read about it either.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

  • Marina Hyde’s new book is What Just Happened?! (Guardian Faber, £18.99). Order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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