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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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war