Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The mayor of London's cartoonist

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