How cartoonists have coped with Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher

Written by David Singleton on 10 April 2017 in Culture

The new exhibition at The Political Cartoon Gallery is being run in association with Total Politics.

A new cartoon exhibition in London shows how prime ministers can expect a rougher ride from political cartoonists than was the case 30 years ago.

The Political Cartoon Gallery is putting on a new exhibition of artwork featuring Margaret Thatcher from when she was in Number 10 - and more recent depictions of the only female to follow in her footsteps, Theresa May.

“It’s a nice contrast between the gentler material from the 70s and 80s to the slightly coarser, rougher stuff that we have now,” says the man behind the exhibition, gallery owner Tim Benson.



On display is artwork featuring Thatcher from the 1970s and 1980s by the leading British cartoonists of the day, such as Paul Rigby, Stanley Franklin, Michael Cummings, Nick Garland, John Kent and Trog.

These cartoons are juxtaposed with contemporary work depicting May by Steve Bell, Christian Adams, Bob Moran, Martin Rowson, Dave Brown and others.

It is not yet clear what May thinks of the cartoonists, but Thatcher is said to have been quite a fan – especially when she was in opposition and the cartoonists were looking elsewhere.

“I’ve heard she didn’t get irony. So she was quite unaffected by the poison pens of the cartoonists,” says Benson.



It is a rather different story as far as Thatcher’s four successors are concerned.

John Major is said to have been quite thin skinned, believing cartoons were there to destabilise him

Tony Blair is also said to have hated cartoons."He was an incredibly vain man by all accounts and especially disliked cartoons that show him with a receding hairline," claims Benson.

According to Benson, Gordon Brown and David Cameron both had the same gripe with the cartoonists – namely that they were portrayed as being fat.

But for Cameron, there was an additional grievance with one particular artist.

Benson says: "He also very much disliked the way that Steve Bell portrayed him with a condom on his head. Even to the point where he told Steve personally: you can only push the condom so far."



May’s feelings about cartoonists may well leak out over the coming months and years. For now, we can rest assured that at least one female member of her cabinet is a fan of the genre.

Speaking at the Maggie May! launch, education secretary Justine Greening lauded the "incredibly clever" work done by cartoonists.

The cabinet minister and MP for Putney was speaking as she stood next a not-so-kind portrayal of herself by Martin Rowson. The Guardian cartoonist had imagined May sending a terrified Greening into the the Colosseum to fight to the death for her grammar schools policy. 

Without directly referring to the cartoon beside her, Greening added: "I’ve no doubt the reason they get under the skin of lots of politicians is because they needle away at the concerns that politicians have politicians have… But you know what – they absolutely do capture the moment."






Maggie May! is on until 30 June 2017 at The Political Cartoon Gallery in Putney, London.


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