Gordon Brown and David Cameron both complained about the way political cartoonists depicted them (they said they were drawn too fat). But after a tumultuous year in British politics, it is Winston Churchill’s take on political cartoons which remains the most sound: the time for politicians to be concerned about cartoons is when they stop appearing in them.

Cameron’s concerns about his likeness in ink seem trivial after the year he has had. Readers will need little reminding about how his political year went, but the cartoonists in this anthology were only too happy to draw the highlights: there were those pig allegations, that conference speech with barely a mention of Theresa May, a disastrous European Union renegotiation effort, and finally being bundled out of No 10 – imagined by the Guardian’s Steve Bell as a removal van with the words ‘I was the future once’.

Such was the year that Cameron is only a bit part player in this collection. There is George Osborne in hard hat and high-vis declaring ‘we are the builders’, a full nine months before whatever he was building turned out to be made of sand. Jeremy Corbyn is elected Labour leader twice, and in between there is Ken Livingstone talking about Adolf Hitler, obviously. And uncannily close to reality, Nigel Farage appears every few pages as the weird guy at the pub holding a pint who just will not leave.

There are some cartoons that fall flat – I cannot say I have ever understood why Cameron was often drawn with a condom over his head. Equally, John Wittingdale clad in leather is an image I could have done without. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail’s close to the bone depiction of rats crossing the border into Europe alongside refugees says more about that paper than the subject.

At least there is some good news for orange ink stockists. According to the book’s introduction – an essay comparing the use of cartoons here and across the pond – Donald Trump’s arrival has cartoonists struggling to decide whether they should welcome him (he is a good subject to draw) or be horrified by him (he is Donald Trump, and he is about to be president).

It has clearly been a better year for political cartoonists, whatever their view on Trump. Morning briefing emails which hit the inboxes of Westminster watchers usually carry that newspaper’s daily cartoon, while Twitter gives them a wider audience. Tim Benson, the editor of this collection, has an account dedicated to sharing the best of the day’s cartoons.

The journalist Malcolm Gladwell theorises that satire, which is supposed to challenge views, usually ends up reinforcing them. There’s certainly an element of that with the more politically charged cartoons here. But there are deeply poignant moments too: the three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, the red in the French tricolor running over after the Paris attacks, and Brendan Cox’s words about love painted in memory of the late Jo.

2016 is a year most of us will be pleased to leave behind. Those of us of a moderate disposition will hope that the next 12 months are less eventful for Britain’s cartoonists.


Alex White is a member of Progress. He tweets at @AlexWhiteUK


Britain’s Best Political Cartoons 2016 edited by Tim Benson

Random House Books | 208pp | £12.99