In this week's New Statesman: Ink-stained assassins

Can political cartoons survive in a digital age? Helen Lewis investigates.

Ink-stained assassins: On the future of the political cartoon

In our cover story this week, Helen Lewis reports on the fate of Britain’s political cartoonists in a digital age.  With print newspapers (long the stalwart of illustrated political satire) struggling for sales, how will cartoonist fare in the transition to digital? Lewis writes:

Print sales are falling; the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show the daily newspaper market contracted 7.79 per cent in the past year. Do cartoons work divorced from the topography of the newspaper page? Will they bring enough “eyeballs” to advertisers to justify their existence on the internet? And, if this is the last generation of news­paper cartoonists, what will we lose when they are gone?

In interviews with many of today’s leading cartoonists, Lewis uncovers a sense of unease about the future of the craft. A lack of young enthusiasts, many of whom are turning towards less specialized fields of illustration, is credited - among other issues - as evidence of a tradition on the decline.

“The tradition started with me,” says Ingram Pinn, the first political cartoonist at the Financial Times. “I hope it doesn’t die with me.”

Martin Rowson of the Guardian is more optimistic, however: “We’ve been parasitising on the back of newspapers, and when newspapers die, like any hideous sensible parasite, we’ll just jump off on to the next host.”

 

David Blanchflower: Perhaps IDS will accuse me of “peeing” on the data

New Statesman politics editor David Blanchflower offers some hard-hitting reflections on George Osborne’s austerity “nonsense”.

“I have to tell you something. I never had any doubt that George Osborne’s austerity nonsense was going to be a disaster. None... I went so far, stupidly, as to say that I was 100 percent certain that austerity would result in a double-dip recession,” he writes.  “There had never been any examples in the past in which austerity led to growth in the midst of a deep recession when a country’s neighbours were also in trouble. All the empirical evidence was to the contrary.”

He follows up with 20 economists who have backtracked in their support of Osborne’s scheme.  The “cowardly” John Vickers keeps mum, while Spanish economist Albert Marcet and the Daily Telegraph “remained supportive”.  Nine of 20 told the NS they thought “the facts had changed” and “it was time to invest in infrastructure”.

He also issues a challenge to Iain Duncan Smith, who accused the BBC’s Stephanie Flanders of “peeing all over British industry”:

Much of the strain of recession has been taken by earnings, which have fallen in real terms, not least because more people are being forced to work for fewer hours than they would have wished. Over the past year, there has also been growth in self-employment of 218,000, against a decline of 33,000 in the number of employees. In all likelihood, these new self-employed jobs are low-paid . . Perhaps Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, will accuse me of peeing on the data. He wouldn't dare.

 

Slavoj Žižek: On the politics of Batman

In an exclusive essay, philospher-critic Slavoj Žižek dissects the politics of the Batman films and what it reflects about our “age of anxiety”. He opines on the capitalist archetypes rife within the latest instalment of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

Although viewers know Wayne is mega-rich, they often forget where his wealth comes from: arms manufacturing plus stock-market speculation, which is why Bane’s games on the stock exchange can destroy his empire. Arms dealer and speculator – this is the secret beneath the Batman mask. How does the film deal with it? By resuscitating the archetypal Dickensian theme of a good capitalist who finances orphanages (Wayne) versus a bad, greedy capitalist (Stryver, as in Dickens).

On the evident allusions to Occupy Wall Street in the story of Bane’s uprising, he notes:

It is all too simplistic to claim that there is no violent potential in OWS and similar movements – there is a violence at work in every authentic emancipatory process. The problem with The Dark Knight Rises is that it has wrongly translated this violence into murderous terror.

 

John Pilger and Luke Harding: On Julian Assange

Senior international correspondent for the Guardian Luke Harding reports from outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Julian Assange has spent the past two months hiding after being granted asylum.  He writes of the danger of mixing Assange’s current allegations with the Wikileaks cause (“Assange faces no prosecution anywhere in the world for anything Wikileaks has done"), adding:

“Assange would be a more convincing champion of human rights if he were to speak up about abuses everywhere, rather than ignoring the record of countries such as Russia and Ecuador that are friendly to him…Paradoxically, the asylum furor over Assange has focused attention on Ecuador’s poor record on press freedom.”

John Pilger. calls the “pursuit” of Assange “an assault on freedom and a mockery of journalism”.

“Threatening to abuse a law designed to expel murderers from foreign embassies, while defaming an innocent man as an ‘alleged criminal’,” he furthers, “[William] Hague has made a laughing stock of Britain across the world, though this view is mostly suppressed in Britain."

 

Stuart Hall: We need to talk about Englishness

Jonathan Derbyshire profiles Stuart Hall, the éminence grise of the British intellectual left and one of the founders of the discipline of cultural studies. They discuss the politics of “Englishness” and the legacy of the New Left (of which Hall was a pioneer in the 1950s).

On his arrival to England in 1951: London was "full of people off the boat train who had come out of the [Jamaican] countryside… It was the subaltern position. On the knees to the dominant culture.”

On his pioneering analysis of Thatcherism in the late 1970s and early 1980s: “When I saw Thatcherism, I realised that it wasn’t just an economic programme, but that it had profound cultural roots. Thatcher and [Enoch] Powell were both what Hegel called ‘historical individuals’ – their very politics, their contradictions, instance or concretise in one life or career much wider forces that are in play.”

On Tony Blair’s inheritance of the Thatcherite mantle: “New Labour come closer to institutionalising neoliberalism as a social and political form than Thatcher did... Thatcherism was a slash-and-burn strategy. With Blair, the language became more adaptive; it found ways of presenting itself to Labour supporters as well.”

On Ed Miliband: “He has been so watchful of his back that he can’t go forward.  You can’t conduct a successful political revival on that basis. Sometimes, you have to have some courage.”

 

Åsne Seierstad: Diary of a nobody

The Norwegian reporter and author of The Bookseller of Kabul, Åsne Seierstad, reports from Oslo on the imminent verdict in the trial of Anders Behring Breivik.  She probes the flaws in the initial police and the subsequent scrutiny of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s national security measures. She argues Breivik has achieved all that he hoped:

“Up till now, the killer has got everything he could wish for. The former high-school drop-out – the nobody – became a somebody.”

 

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

In his 'Grit in the Oyster' column, Dan Hodges analyses the rhetoric coming from Ed Miliband’s allies, concluding: “As for Ed Miliband, he is operating with the safety catch on. Difficult decisions – the really difficult decisions – will be saved for after the election….The settled view seems to be that the next election will be fought between the nation-builders and the nation-wreckers.”

In The Critics, pop singer Tracey Thorne pays tribute to the novelist Elizabeth Taylor, while in Books Leo Robson reviews Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Sweet Tooth.

In Observations, we have Royal Court playwright E V Crowe on Pussy Riot, Michael Brooks on Neanderthal sex, plus a stellar bit of graphic reportage as Karrie Fransman tackles political correctness and comedy. 

All this and more in this week's New Statesman, on newsstands around the country and available for purchase here

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the political cartoon?

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser