LIVE: Cartoons hold politicians to account, says journalist


Sheffield Star cartoonist James Whitworth

By Jack Goodman

The MPs expenses scandal was ‘like Christmas’ for cartoonists, James Whitworth told journalism students.

The prominent cartoonist said the history of cartoon satire and a historical lack of censorship in cartoons dating back to medieval times had given the art social importance.

The 2009 political scandal revealed some MPs were wrongly claiming expenses for personal goods. James said: “Every single day when you thought ‘I can’t possibly draw another cartoon’, someone had claimed for a moat!”

He showed an example cartoon which said: “I went into politics to make my living room a better place.”

Having started out as a journalist, James soon became a full-time cartoonist and now draws for a range of newspapers and magazines, most regularly in satirical publications such as Private Eye and Prospect, as well as his daily cartoon for the Sheffield Star.

“Cartoons have this way of getting straight to the point,” he said.

“Pocket cartoons are all about the caption.  The worst-drawn cartoon in the world will still get published if the joke is good.”

He told Leeds Trinity Journalism Week about a cartoon of early 18th century Prime Minister Robert Walpole dating back to the beginning of newspaper cartooning. The drawing showed an MP climbing up some steps to kiss the Prime Minister on his backside.

“The message is clear, if you want to do well in politics, that’s how you go about it,” said James.


And 1930s cartoonist David Lowe was put on Hitler’s hit list during the Second World War, along with military personnel and Winston Churchill. “He used one of the most powerful tools against the Nazis – ridicule,” said James.

“Ridicule is the power of attacking someone who is a bully. Bullies do not like to be laughed at.”

James added: “Lowe, and cartoonists like him, were being incredibly brave.  They thought the country was about to be invaded.”

He described a boom in satire in the 1980s, including cartoons, and told students that the decade’s range of political conversation provided a “field day” for his field.

He said that 1980s Britain could be summed up in a basic picture and four words: “What is work, Daddy?”







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