Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: Banning a cartoonist from drawing them? SF’s city councillors really are a sketch

Brian John Spencer
Brian John Spencer
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is divorcing his wife MacKenzie after 25 years of marriage

By Lindy McDowell

Tantrum Number One of the Week: the hissy fit thrown by Sinn Fein representatives on Belfast City Council, who have objected to allowing cartoonist/artist Brian John Spencer to sketch the council in session, doesn't exactly paint these self-styled torch-bearers for inclusivity in a flattering light.

It's censorship, pure and simple.

And that's never a good look. Particularly for a party which is constantly preaching to the rest of us about freedom, rights, pluralism, respect, outreach and what have you.

Not only did the Sinn Fein members oppose a motion to permit the artist to sketch the council, but having lost the vote they're now saying huffily he can sketch away all he likes - but he won't be sketching them.

Sinn Fein and Spencer have history. Previously he has had the temerity to produce cartoons lampooning party hypocrisy. And where Sinn Fein is concerned, they can't be having that.

Most notably he offended them with a controversial depiction of Sinn Fein's blood-red lines.

But then, that's the job of a political cartoonist. To cast a critical, often scathing eye upon the political classes. To point up their foibles and follies. To poke fun at them. Occasionally even to show them up as a laughing stock.

On this count, the Sinn Fein group on the council have done the artist's work for him.

They're a sketch.

Take this from their council leader Ciaran Beattie: "The artist involved has been involved in some controversial cartoons - namely about our party ... The cartoonist will not have permission to draw me or, I'm sure, any of my colleagues."

Apparently, to ensure this they will boycott the council chamber while Mr Spencer is busy on his sketch pad.

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons is, not surprisingly, taken aback at this bizarre response.

"At best it's thin-skinned but more worrying is the message they're clearly sending to the creative community: that if an artist's personal beliefs don't fit, Sinn Fein will use their political positions to try and block them."

Sinn Fein's problem with Brian John Spencer isn't just that they don't like his "personal beliefs".

Their problem is also that he's very good at what he does. He's intelligent, articulate and a talented artist. Extremely active on social media, he's also influential.

What's not to dislike there for a party which is averse to even mild censure - and whose usual policy is to portray its critics as bigoted thickos?

In this instance they've lost sight of the big picture. But here's the striking thing. While yes, Sinn Fein have been making headlines over this daft row, unusually in recent times the party seems to have sidled out of the big picture almost entirely.

In the absence of the Stormont Assembly there's been no local forum in which to maintain their customary high political profile. And since they're also refusing to take their seats at Westminster, they're denied the sort of national exposure of which Arlene Foster and the DUP are currently availing.

Obviously it's not quite reached the stage of Sinn who? But for a party once seen as slickly successful in terms of self-promotion, it does seem a bit of a downturn.

Meanwhile, censoring artists just because you don't agree with them? That hardly projects a progressive image.

It just draws ridicule.

Why that Trump meeting was short ... and sweet

Tantrum Number Two of the Week: Donald Trump, having shut down Washington a la Stormont, has had a meeting with Democrat Party leaders where, according to his own (Twitter) account, he asked about funding for his wall and, having received a rebuff, "politely" left.

Those present on the Democrat side, however, tell a different story: "He slammed the table and walked out of the room. He had a temper tantrum."

Who to believe? My money wouldn't be on the petulant President currently holding 800,000 workers' pay packets to ransom all because he can't get the funding to build his Great Wall of Texas. But one thing both parties agree on: Trump is said to have "handed out candy". The Washington Post reports that this included M&Ms, Baby Ruths and Butterfingers. Whatever those last two are.

Sweeties aside, there are similarities with our own political impasse in that neither side emerges well from this standoff. And the longer it goes on, the longer it will go on...

Trump is not likely to draw back. That would be to lose face, and a narcissist like Donald (below) will always be loath to do that.

To the outside world he comes across as, frankly, unhinged. But half of Americans still seem to support him while the other half don't know how to deal with him. No wonder every bookshop you go into these days is laden with tomes analysing the US President and his strange ways.

Doubtless there will be a few more books about his War of the Wall.

Not to mention his unusual new negotiating strategy.

To borrow loosely from the title of a bestseller a few years back (about something else entirely), this can be summed up in a few words.

Eats sweets, and leaves.

This smuggler's one bad egg

A man who refers to himself as the "Pablo Escobar of the egg-smuggling trade" was jailed this week after he'd been arrested at Heathrow airport with 19 rare birds' eggs strapped to his body.

Jeffrey Lendrum claimed he'd brought the hawk, eagle and vulture eggs into the country as their natural habitat was being destroyed.

The prosecution contended, however, that his motivation was plain old greed.

When hatched, the chicks are worth up to £100,000. There's not just one type of vulture...

An Amazon-ly amicable split

Richest man in the universe Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, has announced on Twitter (as you do) that he and his wife MacKenzie are divorcing. It all seems very amicable. According to the posting, they will remain friends. Very rich friends. Bezos is worth around $140bn. The message is that even when the fairytale romance nosedives, you can still live happily every after. It also seems to infer there will be no messy legal battle. In which case, the only broken hearts will be the divorce lawyers'.

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