Political Cartoons of the Year

And so to the Political Cartoon Society’s annual cartoon awards bash at the old home of the Tory party on Smith Square. It’s now occupied by a smart PR outfit. Erm…no change, then. Most of the Tories have long gone, following their own recessionary we’re-all-in-this-together mantra and downsizing to small flat in Harpenden. One or two remained last night, not least the re-born post-plebgate Andrew Mitchell who bravely presented the prizes.

Oh all right, here’s the reason I’m writing this blog. I can’t pretend otherwise. I won a prize. This may not sound like much, but it’s the only one I’ve ever won for political cartooning, so I’m going to milk it. OK, it was only the runner-up prize – the so called Tenniel tankard – but a prize is a prize. And if you’re going to be a runner-up, it may as well be to the inestimable Steve Bell. Steve has won more of these than he has had hot dinners [of which, he has also had a few]. And if it’s going to be a Bell cartoon, it may as well be a momentous one addressing the death of Maggie Thatcher.

In a state of mild shock, I managed to cobble together a few words in grateful acceptance, musing that, as I had just been sacked/fired/dropped by Murdoch’s Sun and was therefore currently not a functioning editorial cartoonist and had never won a prize whilst being an employed one, the voters who marked an x against my cartoon were either grand masters of paradox and irony or were a bunch of complete schadenfreude-filled…well, bastards.

Morten Morland, Nordic genius and all round nice fellow, deservedly won the Cartoonist of the Year award again. I once bemoaned the fact that it was pointless to enter these competitions because the same old people (Steve Bell and Martin Rowson of The Guardian, Dave Brown of The Independent and Peter Brookes and Morten Morland of The Times) won every year. I was rightly reminded what a thankless oaf I was by the organiser and head honcho of the Political Cartoon Society, Tim Benson. He said that (a) I was a fool for entering such a stupid “career” where there are only half a dozen or so full-time jobs available and (b) I was competing in a field of geniuses, so was bound to feel a failure. Of course, he was right. The above-mentioned fellows are indeed all geniuses of their field and I pay a quiet internal hommage every time I see their work. So it was especially nice to be awarded amidst this hallowed company, if only inna-Buggins-stylee.

In a packed Westminster room full of PR people, media types and politicos, was cockle-
warming to bathe for a few moments in the feeling that political cartooning is still important, still vibrant. I say that because the outlook is not immediately rosy for us scribblers. If you want to bore yourself to sleep, here is a fuller account of woe. The ever-eloquent Rowson always likens us to parasites who will find a host even in the most unforgiving of environments. Our forbears were hosted by Georgian coffee shops, pompous, dry Victorian magazines and eventually newspapers. The latter have always been compromising hosts for satirists, being mostly owned by overbearing right-wing free-market Zealots With Opinions.

So, after the death of print, I’m sure the digital world will eventually find a way of funding the luxurious debauched life-style of the satirical scribbler but it may not be for a long time, given the current reluctance of anyone to pay for “content” online and the consequent wholesale loss of income for journalists, writers, photographers and cartoonists. Asked about the outlook for the art form in a New Statesman article earlier this year, I suggested that “Its future may well be as a radical but unpaid version on the web”. In a sense, that is very exciting…liberating. The problem for the scribbler is putting food on the table while being an oh-so-radical web cartoonist. Maybe ‘twas ever thus and should be so. There is something unattractive, uneasy, about the corpulent satirist.

There’s no shortage of talent around – viz the above mentioned geniuses together with a younger crop including Ben JenningsBob MoranRob Murray and others. And political cartooning in Britain is probably healthier and ruder than in many other comparable societies. So long may the scurrilous art form flourish.

Oh, and the esteemed Dr Benson would not forgive me if I forgot to big-up his nice new shiny book. It’s called “Best of Britain’s Political Cartoons 2013”. You can buy it here. Er, and did I say it contains some of mine? It really would make a perfect stocking filler for the cartoon nerd in your life with lumpy, angular legs.