British Cartoonists in Election Quandary
“John Bull, in a quandary”, a caricature by James Gillray from 1788, depicts a stocky, simple-looking character (John Bull) standing between two MPs running in a Westminster by-election. As unflattering as it may seem, John Bull had come to represent the Great British public in caricature. Here he finds himself torn between Hood, on the left, whose naval success is represented by the French sailors he has captured and the ships in the background. Townshend, on the right is holding ribbons attached to three simpering ladies on their knees behind him, to show his success with women. So even in the eighteenth century political figures couldn’t get away with keeping their private lives to themselves.
The inscription “Which way shall I turn me? How will I decide?”, echoes the thoughts of the current British electorate in the last few days before the general election in Britain. And the art of caricature is alive and well for the occasion. A scatological variation on Gillray’s theme by Gerald Scarfe, “Between two stools”, depicts a modern day John Bull (grey suit instead of breeches) quivering with indecision between two giant shits with the faces of Gordon Brown and David Cameron, leaders of the Labour and Tory parties respectively.
This cartoon, presumably sketched out a month or so ago, did not predict the third influence: Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats and surprise sensation of this election. Clegg was catapulted into the public consciousness after Britain’s first televised leaders’ debate. He has even been hailed as “the British Obama”.
This unforeseen change has led to a rise in new voter registrations and the most interesting general election Britain has seen for some years. John Bull (aka the British electorate) finds himself, unexpectedly, not standing between the two usual stools: Labour and Tory, but between three parties: the reds the blues and the bright shiny yellows.
One of the first reactions to Clegg’s TV debate success was a series of smear campaigns in the Tory press: “Clegg in Nazi Slur on Britain” (The Daily Mail) and “Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem, donors and payments into his private account” (The Daily Telegraph). This was caricatured by Peter Brookes in the Times, parodying a scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, with Clegg as the Messiah and Cameron and Brown holding anti-Clegg headlines aloft, saying “he’s not the messiah”, “he’s a very naughty boy”.
Gordon Brown and David Cameron are a caricaturist’s gift – heavyset Brown with his bulldog-saggy face, large ears and grim demeanor pitted against clean-shaven Cameron with his floppy hair, bulgy eyes and pink shiny face. Caricatures of these men are instantly recognizable. Cameron can be depicted as the Beano character “Lord Snooty” (in the satirical paper Private Eye) and as a balloon (by the Guardian’s cartoonist Steve Bell) but we can always tell it’s him.
Clegg’s unexpected rise to prominence is expressed (or rather ill expressed) in caricature. There is, as yet, no credible caricature of Clegg in the British press. Some satirists have blamed this on his lack of distinguishing features (visual or otherwise). Steve Bell talks about the challenges in this short video:
“As a character he’s not defined yet”. This seems to be the main problem – Clegg just hasn’t been in the public eye long enough. While Cameron has been visibly transforming the Conservative party over the last four years, satirists’, pundits’ and cartoonists’ jokes about the Liberal Democrats have been limited to mocking the unlikelihood of their having any real sway at a national level.
Martin Rowson, also of the Guardian, has had a good crack at representing him as Pinocchio – “The Tellyfairy’s promise has come true! You have turned into a real politician!”. Morten Morland, of the Times has also done a fair job as “Supernick”, but there doesn’t yet seem to be any consensus on how to portray this energetic newcomer.
Although Nick won the heart of the TV-viewing electorate in the first televised debate, opinion polls indicate that Cameron performed better in the second and third TV debates. But with polls showing less than 10% difference between the three parties, and a hung parliament looking increasingly likely, it’s going to be a very close call. With these statistics we don’t know what the result is going to be on Thursday, but cartoonists should probably start working on a more solid caricature of Nick Clegg, just in case.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook