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8 December 2021

Poison pens: A selection of the finest political satire

Brexit havoc, Tory sleaze and the brutal reality of Covid restrictions; the events of 2020-21 have provided colourful fodder for cartoonists.

By Gerry Brakus

Political cartoons as we know them have been around for more than 300 years, from Hogarth’s images of London life to the golden age of Punch magazine, to the busy caricaturists of today. There are examples dating back to ancient Greece and Egypt, and satirical art has been found in places of worship from the Middle Ages. The drawing and publishing of cartoons is an activity that not all cultures enjoy or permit. Yet this visual commentary vividly documents the political and social world we live in, and holds those in power to account. 

The events of 2020-21 provided remarkable fodder for the cartoonists who so cleverly satirised them. Brexit havoc, Tory sleaze and the brutal reality of Covid restrictions become colourful and witty works of art in the hands of those who translate them for the country’s national newspapers.

Tim Benson’s Britain’s Best Political Cartoons 2021 (Hutchinson) features more than 190 cartoons published during the year from September 2020, taking in the interior decoration of 10 Downing Street, sausage wars, gun laws and Jacob Rees-Mogg, fittingly depicted as Scrooge.

That cartoonists have so little time to interpret events –and that they still manage to execute their illustrations with such conviction – makes their work all the more impressive. It would have been easy to fill the pages of this magazine with their scabrous wit twice over, but sadly, we don’t have the space. Here, instead, is a selection of some of our favourite cartoons: images that tell the story of another tumultuous year.

The Conservatives gave mixed messages about what would be considered a “substantial meal” at a pub under the new tier system. Michael Gove said on Good Morning Britain that a Scotch egg would not count, but had to U-turn when George Eustice told LBC it would. Peter Brookes, 2 December 2020, the Times
Prince Andrew took cover at Balmoral with the Queen after he was served with a lawsuit accusing him of sexually assaulting a teenage girl, Virginia Giuffre – an accuser of Jeffrey Epstein. Ben Jennings, 11 August 2021, the Guardian
The then housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced plans for laws to protect statues after a monument to the slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down in Bristol. Ben Jennings, 17 January 2021, the Guardian
At a by-election in May, the Conservatives took Hartlepool from Labour for the first time since the constituency’s creation in 1974. Christian Adams, 4 May 2021, Evening Standard
Boris Johnson’s failure to persuade Joe Biden to extend the Afghanistan evacuation deadline beyond 31 August highlighted the UK’s waning influence in Washington, DC. Scott Clissold, 30 August 2021, the Telegraph
In the weeks before the Friends reunion aired, Diane Abbott called on the Labour left to endorse Andy Burnham for the leadership, and Angela Rayner said a “fundamental rethink” was needed. Meanwhile, the Times reported that Keir Starmer was considering making a fly-on-the-wall documentary in the hope of bolstering his ratings. Peter Brookes, 19 May 2021, the Times
The former prime minister David Cameron sent the Chancellor a series of texts – most of which went unanswered – in an attempt to secure emergency Covid loans for Greensill Capital. Morten Morland, 22 March 2021, the Times
Rishi Sunak brought the furlough scheme to an end with the introduction of his less generous Job Support Scheme. Meanwhile, Brexit negotiations foundered.
Chris Riddell, 27 September 2020, the Observer
The Times reported that Boris Johnson had ignored a senior civil servant’s plea that he change his mobile number over concerns that it was too widely known.
Dave Brown, 23 April 2021, the Independent
The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had to apologise for breaking the “rule of six” after being pictured at a dinner party with eight other people.
Christian Adams, 1 October 2020, Evening Standard
Ahead of Dominic Cummings’s evidence to MPs, the ex-chief aide said lockdowns could have been avoided were “competent people in charge”.
Steve Bright, 24 May 2021, the Sun
Keir Starmer proclaimed “the return of Tory sleaze” at Prime Minister’s Questions following the Greensill lobbying scandal.
Chris Riddell, 18 April 2021, the Observer
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This article appears in the 09 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special