Steve Bell’s shtick is picking a comparator for a politician whom he knows he’s going to have to draw a lot. Nick Clegg as cardboard figure with massive chin. Edwina Currie as giant chicken. John Prescott as a toothless bulldog. Nicola Sturgeon has just become one of those politicians, as the very-soon-to-be First Minister of Scotland.
Edwina Currie said of him a few years ago:
He’s never kind, never affectionate. So it can feel hurtful. Afterwards, you realise it’s very funny and clever, but at the time you feel miffed that your enormous contribution to the country is not being recognised. Does it make you feel better when you see your political rivals skewered? Oh yes!
Steve Bell is a remarkable talent. I’m not in the least surprised at his longevity. Long may he continue.
So, Steve Bell might have picked something offensive, it might have been funny, it might have been clarifying or illuminating or silly, but the shtick Steve Bell seems to have chosen for Nicola Sturgeon is… Hitler.
Nicola Sturgeon is, apparently, going to be a fem Hitler in Steve Bell’s cartoons from now on. (I could be wrong about this: Bell’s possibly going in some other direction. Steve Bell’s a complex cartoonist, and I write this with some trepidation, because in ten days time it seems entirely possible that I’ll look back on this blogpost and go “sheesh, why didn’t I spot THAT?”) But that’s the way it looks to me right now.
I queried the appropriateness in a comment and on Twitter, and I got this response from a Scottish Labour supporter. (Who I then blocked. We’d interacted before.)
Fairly clearly, this is not a good angle for Scottish Labour to take on Nicola Sturgeon, but I don’t see this as a party angle: this is just one not-particularly-pleasant guy – I’ve encountered many not-particularly-pleasant campaigners for all parties (except of course the Scottish Greens, who tend towards being relentlessly nice in a way no other party seems to be able to duplicate). To any Scottish Labour supporter with sense, comparing the SNP to the Nazis is as far from being a good electoral strategy as Berwick is from Lerwick.
But that this unpleasant guy gets Steve Bell’s “joke”: Nicola Sturgeon is like Hitler because – that’s discomforting.
(I’d like to think that Steve Bell is just being sexist, can’t cope with a female First Minister: but I fear he may actually be that ignorant about the SNP, and may be cartooning out of uninformed beliefs about the SNP and confusion about their appeal to Scots, rather than his usual razor-sharp it’s-funny-because-it’s-true.)
(To digress a little into the Scottish Labour leadership campaign: I was told when I said I’d rather Neil Findlay or Sarah Boyack for Scottish Labour leader, not Jim Murphy (who can’t be an MSP til May 2016, and who may not be an MP after May 2015) that as I wasn’t a Labour member or voter obviously I wouldn’t have the same view as a proper Labour supporter (Labour party members in Scotland seem to be endorsing Jim Murphy). I pointed out that I’d voted for Malcolm Chisholm, my Scottish Labour MSP, in 2011: I’d voted Labour (if rather reluctantly, as least-of-four-evils) in 2010. And I voted No in September 2014. But I can’t vote Labour in May 2015, because it would mean voting for an MP who voted for the Tory welfare cap in March this year, and I won’t do that. I have no enthusiasm for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, which endorsed both workfare and retrospective legislation making it lawful to have sanctioned thousands of the poorest people in the country, but a leftward-leaning MP might have persuaded me they were, again, the lesser of four evils. If I feel anything about the Labour Party right now, I feel sad that they decided they didn’t need my vote and so didn’t bother to oppose the Tories on the major issues of workfare and welfare. I cannot stomach a party that sets a three-line Whip to support Tory policies, and that’s the end of it. I don’t think I’m unusual in Scotland or among left-wing former Labour supporters, either.)
I’d be the first to admit that I don’t see the SNP as really a left-wing party, though it certainly includes some left-wing politicians and has drifted to the left in opposition to the Tories, while Labour’s done exactly the reverse. And fairly obviously, the SNP is a nationalist party, but not a racist or sectarian nationalism: the SNP’s policy for decades has been that if you identify as Scottish, born or living in Scotland, you are Scottish, and no nonsense about ancestry or tartan or clans or language.
The SNP are a nationalist party who are gaining votes in Scotland from Labour not because of a drift to nationalism – 55% voted against independence in the biggest turnout on record for fifty years – but because the SNP are strongly in opposition to the Tory/LibDem government, and Labour aren’t. The strongest, most consistent, most compelling theme in Scottish politics since at least the 1980s wasn’t nationalism and still isn’t: it’s “Kick the Tories out”. The LibDems are dying in Scotland as a party because in Westminster they’re propping up a Tory government, and that Scots find unforgiveable.
For Labour, either Scottish Labour or UK Labour, to try to campaign against the SNP on the basis that Labour’ll be doing things almost the same as the Tories just a little nicer (which seems to be Ed Miliband’s consistent strategy) is not a winning strategy.
For Labour to confuzzedly assume they must be losing because Scots are becoming more nationalist rather than because Scots vote leftward and Labour is drifting rightward, is the kind of folly that would turn north from Edinburgh and catch a ferry if where you wanted to go was Berwick-on-Tweed.
But Steve Bell is not obliged to campaign for any party, and indeed doesn’t: one of the things I generally like about him is that he relentlessly mocks them all. If he wants to mock the SNP by comparing them to the Nazis, it’s a free country, he’s allowed… it’s just not funny.