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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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.