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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How can the left make the case for immigration?

All too often, we drift into telling people we want to convince that they just don't get it.

We don’t give the public enough credit. You’ll often hear their views dismissed with sighs in intellectual circles. In fact on most issues the public are broadly sensible, most are these days supportive of cutting the deficit and dubious about political giveaways, but in favor of protecting spending on the NHS and education. Yet there is one issue where most, “knowledgeable” folks will tell you the public are well out of step: immigration. 

With [today’s] net migration figures showing yet another record high, it is an ever more salient issue. On a lot of measures ‘too much immigration’ ranks highest as the number one concern (see Ipossmori). The ongoing rise of right wing political parties across Europe demonstrates that simply enough. But concerns about immigration don’t just sit with those with more extreme views, they’re also shared across the mainstream of public opinion. Yet unlike thinking on cutting the deficit or funding the NHS the public consensus that immigration is bad for Britain, flies flat in the face of the intellectual consensus, and by that I mean the economics. 

Given the intense public debate many a study has tried to spell out the economic impact of immigration, most find that it is positive. Immigration boosts the nation’s GDP. As the theory goes this is because immigrants bring with them entrepreneurialism and new ideas to the economy. This means firstly that they help start new ventures that in turn create more wealth and jobs for natives. They also help the supply chains to keep ticking. A example being British agriculture, where seasonal workers are are needed, for example, to pick the strawberries which help keeps the farms, the truckers and the sellers in business. 

Most studies also find little evidence of British jobs being lost (or displaced) due to immigrants, certainly when the economy is growing. Indeed economists refer to such “ “they’re” taking our jobs” arguments as the “lump of labour fallacy’. On top of all that the average migrant is younger than the native population and less likely to rely on welfare, so their net contribution to the state coffers are more likely to be positive than natives as they don’t draw as much state spending from pensions or the NHS. 

So why haven't the public cottoned on? Many progressive types dismiss such views as racist or xenophobic. But it turns out this is to misunderstand the public just as much as the public ‘misunderstand’ immigration. When you study people’s views on immigration more closely it becomes clear why. Far from being racist most people asked by focus groups cite practical concerns with immigration. Indeed if you go by the British Social Attitudes Survey a much smaller number of people express racist view than say they are concerned about migration.  

The think tank British Future broadly set out that while a quarter of people are opposed to immigration in principle and another quarter are positive about it the majority are concerned for practical reasons - concerns about whether the NHS can cope, whether there are enough social houses, whether our border controls are up to scratch and whether we know how many people are coming here in the first place (we don’t since exit checks were scrapped, they only came back a few months ago). But more than anything else they also have very little confidence that government can or wants to do anything about it. 

This truth, which is to often ignored, begets two things. Firstly, we go about making the argument in the wrong way. Telling someone “you don’t understand immigration is good for our economy etc etc” is going to get a reaction which says “this person just doesn't get my concerns”. Despite the moans of progressives, this is precisely why you won't hear left leaning politicians with any nous ‘preaching’ the the unconditional benefits of immigration.

More importantly, the economic arguments miss the central issue that those concerned with immigration have, that the benefits and effects of it are not shared fairly. Firstly migrants don’t settle homogeneously across the country, some areas have heavy influxes other have very little. So while the net effect of immigration may be positive on the national tax take that doesn't mean that public services in certain areas don’t loose out. Now there isn't clear evidence of this being the case, but that could just as well be because we don’t record the usage of public services by citizenship status. 

The effects are also not equal on the income scale, because while those of us with higher incomes scale tend to benefit from cheep labour in construction, care or agriculture (where many lower skilled migrants go) the lower paid British minority who work in those sectors do see small downward pressure on their wages. 

It’s these senses of unfairness of how migration has been managed (or not) that leads to the sense of concern and resentment. And any arguments about the benefit to the UK economy fail to answer the question of what about my local economy or my bit of the labour market. 

Its worth saying that most of these concerns are over-egged and misused by opponents of immigration. Its only a small factor in stagnating wages, and few local areas are really overrun. But the narrative is all important, if you want to win this argument you have to understand the concerns of the people you are trying to convince. That means the right way to make the argument about immigration is to start by acknowledging your opponents concerns - we do need better border controls and to manage demands on public services. Then persuade them that if we did pull up the drawbridge there is much we’d loose in smart entrepreneurs and in cultural diversity. 

Just whatever you do, don’t call them racist, they’re probably not.

Steve O'Neill was deputy head of policy for the Liberal Democrats until the election.