Suella Braverman was guest of honour at the Ellwood Atfield Political Cartoon of the Year Awards last night, but the assembled scribblers were not in the honouring mood. She took the stage to panto boos and said “the heckling has started already”.
“Boy have you painted me horrifically,” she complained in her first speech since leaving government, “they say politics is showbusiness for ugly people and judging by your cartoons of me that is definitely true.” “It’s called realism,” shouted one wag. “Ah, there we go,” she sighed.
Braverman wondered if one particularly disturbing depiction of her as the girl from The Exorcist was a compliment. “It wasn’t,” quipped a freelance cartoonist for The Guardian. “Would you like to come up?,” Braverman asked, glowering into the crowd, “you’ve got so much to say! Come on, come on then.” The cartoonist, Rebecca Hendin, mounted the stage before host Gavin Ellwood intervened, asking them to save the boxing match for later.
Braverman carried on with awards, handing a large wooden spoon to runner up Steve Bell, who was sacked from The Guardian this year after four decades when he drew an image some thought anti-Semitic.
“I can’t believe I’ve won this spoon, it’s the most fabulous thing,” he said, “it’s been a shit year to be honest but as a master of hate speech I will say I’ve been trying my best to make free comment but unfortunately the Guardian is no longer a home to freedom of comment.”
On the subject of free expression, the former home secretary mentioned the current bidding war for the Telegraph and Spectator titles. "I want to be clear, I oppose their takeover by RedBird IMI. The Telegraph is one of the bedrocks of our free press and The Spectator is an irrepressible voice for challenging established orthodoxies," she said.
"To my mind there is no doubt that this takeover will hinder the accurate presentation of news and the free expression of opinion and the independence of the paper will undeniably be compromised if its control is ceded to the hands of a foreign state. That freedom is essential, now more than ever, in a healthy democracy, and I hope that that takeover does not go ahead."
"I hope that you continue unhindered by political interference, financial interests or fear of causing offence," she said, before a heckler asked "can we have that in writing?" Another asked: "do they have cartoonists in Rwanda?"
Braverman awarded the top prize, Political Cartoon of the Year, to the Evening Standard’s Christian Adams.
Despite the sour atmosphere of the evening, Braverman thanked the assembled illustrators for their “hideous and hilarious” depictions of her. “Thank you for taking the piss out of me, long may you continue doing your hard work,” she said.