Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

In defence of the Evening Standard’s leprechaun cartoon

My colleague at the Evening Standard, the excellent cartoonist, Christian Adams, has been having a bruising time of it since his cartoon in yesterday’s paper was published. It features two leprechauns, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, capering around a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – the pot bearing the legend: “no backstop”.

It is quite plainly a jab at the illusory, fantastical and delusional notion – his view – that the Irish backstop can simply be magicked away, as both candidates intimated when they visited Northern Ireland yesterday. Plainly, the people being caricatured were Boris and Jeremy, not the Irish, nor indeed leprechauns. It was an Irish trope used against English politicians and visually striking. It was indeed a pro-Dublin government, anti-Brexit cartoon.

You can guess what happened, can’t you? Twitter lit up; usual grounds, usual suspects. Except that quite a lot of the offended were Irish. One reproduced a Punch cartoon, Victorian vintage, showing the usual ape-like Irishman, with the caption: “still at it after all these years”. Except the gentleman in question was a caricature of an Irishman, not a caricature of two Englishmen.

Then there was an even more pained piece in the Irish Times, which opined that:

“a leprechaun trope in a cartoon about an issue pertaining to Ireland – even if British politicians are the target of the cartoon – should have set off alarm bells… Satire, whether in literary form or in cartoons, is generally regarded as something that “punches up” – in other words, a weapon of the powerless against dominant groups and people … Most people feel it is insensitive to use it against the powerless – and, particularly, against vulnerable minorities – and it is always controversial to do so….

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