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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Over a Martini with my mother, I decide I'd rather not talk Brexit

A drink with her reduces me to a nine-year-old boy recounting his cricketing triumphs.

To the Royal Academy with my mother. As well as being a very competent (ex-professional, on Broadway) singer, she is a talented artist, and has a good critical eye, albeit one more tolerant of the brighter shades of the spectrum than mine. I love the RA’s summer exhibition: it offers one the chance to be effortlessly superior about three times a minute.

“Goddammit,” she says, in her finest New York accent, after standing in front of a particularly wretched daub. The tone is one of some vexation: not quite locking-yourself-out-of-the-house vexed, but remembering-you’ve-left-your-wallet-behind-a-hundred-yards-from-the-house vexed. This helps us sort out at least one of the problems she has been facing since widowhood: she is going to get cracking with the painting again, and I am going to supply the titles.

I am not sure I have the satirical chops or shamelessness to come up with anything as dreadful as Dancing With the Dead in My Dreams (artwork number 688, something that would have shown a disturbing kind of promise if executed by an eight-year-old), or The End From: One Day This Glass Will Break (number 521; not too bad, actually), but we work out that if she does reasonably OK prints and charges £500 a pop for each plus £1,000 for the original – this being at the lower end of the price scale – then she’ll be able to come out well up on the deal. (The other solution to her loneliness: get a cat, and perhaps we are nudged in this direction by an amusing video installation of a cat drinking milk from a saucer which attracts an indulgent, medium-sized crowd.)

We wonder where to go for lunch. As a sizeable quantity of the art there seems to hark back to the 1960s in general, and the style of the film Yellow Submarine in particular, I suggest Langan’s Brasserie, which neither of us has been to for years. We order our customary Martinis. Well, she does, while I go through a silly monologue that runs: “I don’t think I’ll have a Martini, I have to write my column this afternoon, oh sod it, I’ll have a Martini.”

“So,” she says as they arrive, “how has life been treating you?”

Good question. How, indeed, has life been treating me? Most oddly, I have to say. These are strange times we live in, a bit strange even for me, and if we wake up on 24 June to find ourselves no longer in Europe and with Nigel Farage’s toadlike mug gurning at us from every newspaper in the land, then I’m off to Scotland, or the US, or at least strongly thinking about it. Not even Hunter S Thompson’s mantra – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – will be enough to arm myself with, I fear.

The heart has been taking something of a pummelling, as close readers of this column may have gathered, but there is nothing like finding out that the person you fear you might be losing it to is probably going to vote Brexit to clear up that potential mess in a hurry. The heart may be stupid, but there are some things that will shake even that organ from its reverie. However, operating on a need-to-know basis, I feel my mother can do without this information, and I find myself talking about the cricket match I played on Sunday, the first half of which was spent standing watching our team get clouted out of the park, in rain not quite strong enough to take us off the field, but certainly strong enough to make us wet.

“Show me the way to go home,” I sang quietly to myself, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” etc. The second half of it, though, was spent first watching an astonishing, even by our standards, batting collapse, then going in at number seven . . . and making the top score for our team. OK, that score was 12, but still, it was the top score for our team, dammit.

The inner glow and sense of bien-être that this imparted on Sunday persists three days later as I write. And as I tell my mother the story – she has now lived long enough in this country, and absorbed enough of the game by osmosis, to know that 17 for five is a pretty piss-poor score – I realise I might as well be nine years old, and telling her of my successes on the pitch. Only, when I was nine, I had no such successes under my belt.

With age comes fearlessness: I don’t worry about the hard ball coming at me. Why should I? I’ve got a bloody bat, gloves, pads, the lot. The only things that scare me now are, as usual, dying alone, that jackanapes Farage, and bad art. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain