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When a touchy politician growled at cartoonist: ‘I’m not a f***ing dog’

Guardian’s Steve Bell recalls encounter with John Prescott and how he riled David Cameron

23 November, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Steve Bell: Caricature of David Cameron ‘got to him’

IF you’re a politician upset by a caricature, it’s best not to tell artist Steve Bell. The veteran Guardian cartoonist revealed the backlash he faced from David Cameron and John Pres­cott over his portrayal of them during a talk at Housmans Bookshop in King’s Cross on Wednesday night.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Mr Prescott was a bulldog with a distinctive fringe in Mr Bell’s cartoons and was often portrayed as a subservient pet during the Blair years.

“He said to one of my colleagues: ‘That bloody cartoonist, he’s bloody drawing me as a dog. I’m not a f***ing dog.’ When I heard that I had to carry on doing the dog with renewed vigour,” the cartoonist revealed.

Mr Bell, who lives in Brighton, drew former Prime Minister Mr Cam­eron with a pink condom rolled over his head. He said: “During the 2010 election campaign, Cameron came towards us. He came straight up to me and said: ‘Hi, what’s this condom thing about?’ So I said as truthfully as I could: ‘It’s to do with your extreme youth and the smoothness of your complexion.’ I didn’t actually say: ‘It’s because you’re a dick’.”

This would not be the last encounter between them. Mr Bell recalled a meeting a few years later: “He said to me: ‘You’re not still drawing me as a condom are you?’ I didn’t know what to say. Something about it was getting to him. I thought: he doesn’t like it. So that was good.”

Mr Bell provided a rare glimpse into internal politics at the Guardian offices in York Way.

“When I unrolled a huge condom on David Cameron the editor hated it. The last editor, Alan Rusbridger, said he didn’t want to see any more condoms. We had a terrible toing and froing over several months. He wouldn’t allow any attributes [to the condom],” he said.

Mr Bell explained to the packed room how he decided which feature of a politician to enhance, giving Tony Blair as an example.

“I happened to notice this flicker of his eye­brow. I think he was being interviewed on TV,” he said. “He was everywhere. I noticed this angry staring left eye and a twinkly smile.

“That gave me the underlying structure of his character.”

He described it as “the proudest moment of my life” to be criticised in the Daily Mail for his depiction of Margaret Thatcher after she died in 2013.

His cartoon showed Ms Thatcher in a burning pit, accompanied by the Mail headline, “Crawling out of the woodwork, the old Lefties spewing bile about Lady Thatcher”.

Mr Bell said: “They didn’t ask for the picture they published so they had to pay for it.”

Who did he want to be Prime Minister next? Mr Bell said Boris Johnson would be easiest to draw, with Dominic Raab, former minister for exiting the European Union, “boring” to depict.

Steve Bell’s newly-published Corbyn the Resurrection is available from bookshops, priced £12.99.

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