Stabbed in the Front: Post-war General Elections Through Political Cartoons

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9781902671208: Stabbed in the Front: Post-war General Elections Through Political Cartoons
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Stabbed in the Front is a sideways look at British General Elections since 1945, through the eyes of Britain's leading political cartoonists. Dr Alan Mumford has trawled the newspaper archives to see what concerned and alarmed the ordinary voters - and delighted the cartoonists - in post-war General Elections.

Stabbed in the Frotate of the parties, the conduct of the campaign, and the results of the poll are given, with sketches of the major participants and leading cartoonists, and special contributions from those directly involved - including Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Edward Heath, and James Callaghan.

The relationship between politicians and cartoonists is a complex one. Politicians may be the target of vicious attacks, but they don't feel to have "arrived" until they have been cartooned. After Mrs Thatcher won the 1987 Election, Ralph Steadman urged his colleagues to stop drawing politicians, on the grounds that "not even a tyrant can survive the whiplash of indifference." Yet no-one took up the challenge, for, as Dr Mumford points out in his introduction, political cartoonists may bite the hand that feeds them, but they won't bite it off.

Stabbed in the Front shows how political cartoons both grow from and inspire political campaigns. As Lord Tom Sawyer explains in the book, most of the staff in the Labour "War Room" read the Guardian during the 1997 Election, and "a big hit on the Tories - such as Steve Bell's cartoon on sleaze of 9 April 1997 - would attract comments and put party workers in a confident mood." Steve Bell's cartoon - a glassy-eyed Neil Hamilton eating his way through a trough of money - is one of those selected for the book.

Stabbed in the Front has been published by the Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature at the University of Kent. This unique research centre was established in 1973, and houses the world's largest archive of British newspaper and magazine cartoons.

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About the Author:

Dr Alan Mumford has written several books on the theory of management, but this is his first investigation of political cartoons - a field in which he has an extensive collection of books and original artwork. He was first involved in politics as a student at Cambridge in the 1950s, when he was hit by a tomato during a rowdy Union Society debate over Suez. He sees cartoons as a physically more gentle but psychologically more damaging attack.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

In selecting the cartoons I have made no attempt to secure balance between those attacking or supporting the different political parties...I have deliberately chosen cartoons that still have the power to make me wince, or make me laugh, but humour was also not one of the major criteria. The political cartoon is differentiated from the social cartoon in that whilst the latter is more often than not intended to raise a smile - if not a laugh - the political cartoon often has no such intention. David Low, who drew for Beaverbrook's Evening Standard, argued in favour of ridicule and mockery as the prime emphasis in cartoons, but other political cartoonists have been dismissive of the idea that anybody should laugh at their work...

It is possible to argue that even the more extreme cartoonists match the comment made by the Glaswegian Marxist in Trevor Griffiths' 1974 play The Party, who criticises the commitment of middle-class Socialists by telling them "You'll bite the hand that feeds you - but you'll not bite it off."...This tacit understanding has allowed British political cartoonists a long and productive working life - right from the days of John Tenniel and later Bernard Partridge on Punch. David Low and Sidney Strube both began drawing political cartoons before the First World War, and were still doing so after the Second World War. Michael Cummings drew first for Tribune in 1948, then for the Daily Express and Sunday Express, and the Times Weekend, right up to the 1997 General Election...

Some of this longevity may have been due to the political flexibility of cartoonists - or to their willingness to change employers in line with their changing political beliefs. Cummings moved from the very left-wing Tribune newspaper to Beaverbrook's Express group, after which it became difficult to believe that he could ever have been the cartoonist on a left-wing journal. In the 1970s Nicholas Garland drew for the left-wing New Statesman, but he now draws for both the conventionally right-wing Daily Telegraph and the less conventionally right-wing Spectator...

However, it would be wrong to suggest that cartoonists always reflect the opinions of the papers for which they work. In the 1940s Vicky had so many of his cartoons rejected by his employer, the News Chronicle, that he published them in book form under the title The Editor Regrets...Yet many papers seem to have been able to absorb these creative tensions. When asked about his experiences on the Sunday Telegraph in the 1960s and 1970s, John Jensen told me that he had never had a cartoon rejected, although at Election time there was always a certain amount of pressure on him not to be too anti-Tory.

To some extent these tensions were affected by whether the cartoonist submitted just one cartoon or rough drawing to the editor, or submitted several. This certainly seems to have helped on the Daily Express in the 1980s, where the editor, Derek Jameson, described his cartoonist Cummings as "slightly to the right of Attila the Hun": "He reserves most of his venom for Labour leaders. Every day he submits five or six rough outlines and I select the one which seems least cruel." However, submitting roughs is not always the best way of defusing tensions between an editor and a cartoonist. Martin Rowson recalled of the 1980s that "when I worked briefly as editorial cartoon a matter of course, to keep me in my place with the rest of the hacks." The truth seems to be that whilst few cartoonists suffer rejection for failing to fit in with a newspaper's political line, they mostly migrate to papers with which they have a reasonable degree of political sympathy...

It is interesting that there are no British equivalents of the Democratic Donkey and the Republican Elephant used by American cartoonists to represent the main political parties...The Conservative and Labour Parties may have a continuous history, but political cartoonists tend to portray them only through their most recent leaders and supporters. There are equally few representations of the common man, despite his significance to all General Election campaigns. Before the Second World War, Sidney Strube had used his "Little Man" to make comments within a cartoon, and Low's "Colonel Blimp" had been an equally famous running character commenting on political events. Low and Vicky even appeared as critical commentators in their own cartoons, but today only Franklin's character "Raspberry" remains to offer a sideways glance at political events...

In the absence of significant research - or indeed of autobiographical or other comment - it seems sensible to fall back on commonsense. A General Election campaign and the associated media interest - including political cartoons - may play a role in sharpening the identification of voters with a particular political party, or against an individual or a party. But the outcome of a General Election is determined over a substantial period of time, not simply during the few weeks of the campaign itself. It would be wrong to expect political cartoons to have a significant effect on voting behaviour, although they may help to focus attention and encapsulate issues during a General Election.

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