Political cartoonists and free speech

I must admit when I read a paper, I skim over the headlines and don’t always pay  image imageattention to its feature cartoon. I shall try and pay more attention to them in future.

Political cartoonists do add an extra dimension to our media and we should celebrate them. If a picture tells a thousand words, then a sharp, satirical cartoonist can far exceed that number with his wit, artistry and barbed cruelty.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw Steve Bell, the Guardian’s political cartoonist, a giant haystack of a man with a woolly beard hiding quite a handsome face and deep, fishtank eyes. Smiling they might be, but behind them lurks a piranha waiting to snare its bait. Paunchy and wearing cords and braces, he very much reminded me an unfit lumberjack.

image  A former teacher, Steve relishes the power at the end of his fingertips which enable  him to ridicule and mock our politicians. A pre-Blairite Socialist, he admits a loathing for today’s New Labour who he called “an angry lot”, while reserving even deeper contempt for Conservatives, “a psychotic bunch”, he reckons, though he thinks we are okay on a one to one level. Phew, that’s alright then!

Steve is not one to hold back on his barbed  views, and nobody of note escapes. It imagedoesn’t seem to do him any harm either. He was winked at by David Cameron at the Conservative Party conference – even though he has portrayed him cruelly as a transparent jelly fish.

The one thing politicians should not do is let Steve know he is getting under their skin as he confessed this would give him even greater pleasure in mocking them even more.

However cruel his cartoons, his skill lies in conveying an image that writers cannot get across in few words to capture that same moment. It’s a visual kind of free speech.

Although politicians might dread how Steve Bell portrays them, it may be even worst to be ignored by him. At least they will know they have made an impact of some kind.

Pics courtsey of Steve Bell.


  1. Sometimes political cartoons can be way harsher, more graphic, and cause a bigger impact than a well-written text. Great post!

  2. electro-kevin

    Humour can be the most potent of weapons. Politicians fear it.

    It can also be one of the most misleading. Look what The Spitting Image did to the Tories. Where is the Nu Lab equivalent ?

    It’s a shame that most satarists are of left-wing persuasion. I’m sure it is their wrath which the Tory party fears most and why they are (rightly) terrified of being made to appear unfashionable. They are also in fear of looking old aged which – for some reason these days – is looked upon as unwholesome and unhealthy. Something to be hidden.

    We don’t need gimmickry at this most desperate of hours (women only shortlists) we need the best. The VERY best. And fearless of anonymous men with coloured pencils.

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