You are browsing the archive for Boris Johnson.

Send in the Clowns?

December 8, 2019 in Comment, Events

Cartoon by © Rupert Besley

Rupert Besley writes:

[a personal viewpoint, not purporting in any way to represent the opinions of the PCO]

For the first time in my life I’m seriously wondering if humour might not be doing more harm than good. That’s a worrying thought and no conclusion I would ever wish to reach. I get to this point down the following route.

The expert analysis of recognised independent think-tanks all seems to agree that Brexit, hard or soft, will leave the country’s economy worse off than before and that those who will suffer most are those already hardest hit and at the bottom of the pile. And yet the parties pursuing this course (Conservative and Brexit) are those that have been riding high in the polls and especially so in the least well-off areas.

I can think of only one explanation for this and it comes in three parts.

Firstly, television has turned politics into a celebrity contest. The two-second conclusions of grassroots opinion foisted on us each day by television news are by their nature superficial and short. Vox pop verdicts may do people a disservice, but from them it seems that large numbers of voters are deciding not on policy or even party but just on the personality of each leader.

Next, no such Johnson-Corbyn dance-off begins on an even footing. The UK press, predominantly in right-wing hands, has seen to that. Boris Johnson, one of their own, is portrayed as loveable chump, accorded the status of national treasure and first-name recognition. The cameras love him, as he does them. For years the most widely read papers in this country have found space each day to vilify Corbyn (surname only), made out to be some kind of crazed communist blend of racist and terrorist. (The shame, perhaps, is that he himself does not do personal attacks on anyone.)

Finally, in any such competition, the guy-in-the-pub, say-it-straight, got-all-the-answers funster image of a Johnson or a Farage will come across to many (or any who don’t know them) as more appealing than the duller, dour, more complicated and apparently humourless mode of a Corbyn.  What else is there to explain the strong personal lead Johnson enjoys in the polls, regardless of his track record? Baffled by the complexities of the political situation and bored with its repetitiveness, people are looking instead for good cheer and light relief.

I accept that we live in an age when a political leader has to have ‘personality’ and be  good on television. They need that to carry the country with them. Things were different in the world I came into. Attlee was a modest man and self-effacing. Of him it was said, ‘An empty taxi drew up in Downing St and Clement Attlee stepped out.’  Stafford Cripps was not known for his laddishness. But, as Chancellor, he is credited with laying the foundations of Britain’s post-war economic prosperity. The Attlee government, which included the likes of Nye Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell and Herbert Morrison, created the NHS and greatly expanded the welfare state. Earnest, high-minded politicians, intent on tackling the ills of the world – but none of them great for a larf.

How might it have been, one wonders, if in those post-war decades the electorate had gone instead for the characters played by the most popular comics of the day? Ken Dodd for Chancellor, perhaps. Or Charlie Drake? Arthur Askey for PM or maybe Bernard Bresslaw. I only arsked.

The mayor of London's cartoonist

May 6, 2008 in General


PCOer Martin Rowson writes about his time as Cartoonist Laureate to the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and wonders whether he’ll survive the regime change.

I suppose that Ken Livingstone’s defeat by Boris Johnson means that I’m no longer the Official Cartoonist Laureate to the Mayor of London, although I’m not quite sure. Somewhere in the bowels of City Hall, the Great Glass Testicle by the Thames, there is a contract, drawn up between the Mayor’s office and me.

It was, I now freely admit, a joke. It was also a joke to remind Ken of his promise every time we met, and it remained a joke, after he was elected mayor in 2000, to browbeat one of his policy wonks at a party about his boss’s failure to keep his promises. However, jokes are dangerous things, and a few days after the encounter with the wonk I got a call from Ken himself, saying we were going ahead, and that I was duly appointed as the Cartoonist Laureate for London.

The terms of the contract were pretty straightforward. I would provide drawings of the Mayor or of events involving him, the GLA and the administration of London, in return for one pint of London Pride ale per year. This, I stipulated, had to be bought by the Mayor with his own money over the bar of a public house during licensing hours. And that was more or less it.

At the time of my appointment in 2001, I got a great deal of press attention, mostly because neither the mayor nor the GLA had actually got round to doing anything else by that stage. I got invited to attend the opening of the new City Hall by the Queen, and produced what I think was my finest cartoon in the job, of “Red, White and Blue Ken” rolling his tongue out as a red carpet for the Queen to process down, with the Duke of Edinburgh behind her.

But by 2007, payment was, strictly, five years in arrears.

This didn’t actually stop me voting for him and I still churned out stuff for GLA’s in-house newspaper – The Londoner – up until February 2008. One of Boris Johnson’s few palpable election promises was to scrap the paper, but even that wouldn’t make me vote for him.

I’ll ‘fess up and say that I admire Ken Livingstone probably more than any other politician I can think of. His bravery in thwarting New Labour was a beautiful and inspiring thing, and both the Congestion Charge and the pedestrianisation of the North of Trafalgar Square were enormously brave too, in the latter case because nobody had been able to make a decision to do this for sixty years. But I hope that that admiration didn’t constrain me from taking the piss when so inclined, even if, as things turned out, the beer that might have provided the piss dried up rather sooner than I’d hoped.

And as every workman is worthy of his hire, if Boris comes up with the goods, I’m more than happy to drink his beer and piss on him too. I await the call.

Bloghorn says click R for Rowson.

It’s British cartoon talent