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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005, 15:50 GMT
Election artist 'censorship' row
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

David Godbold - copyright Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, 2005
Mr Godbold claims authorities tried to censor him
Britain's official general election artist has vowed never to work for Parliament again claiming officials tried to censor his work.

Irish artist David Godbold says he was put under pressure to tone down some of the more controversial drawings he made during the 2005 election campaign.

But Commons works of art committee chairman, Tory MP Hugo Swire, dismissed Mr Godbold's claims as "fanciful".

The 18 ink drawings are going on show at Westminster's Portcullis House.

'Real politics'

Mr Godbold was chosen to document the 2005 general election campaign by then Labour MP Tony Banks (now a Lord) who was chairman of the all-party arts committee.

Title: Feeling litigious? Copyright: David Godbold/House of Commons 2005
'Feeling litigious?' was drawn on a racist letter sent to an MP

The artist was promised unfettered access to press conferences and other campaign events, where he made ink drawings inspired by what he saw, which were then laid over a background of discarded election literature.

"Actually doing the commissions was extremely interesting but the real politics began when I submitted the drawings," Mr Godbold told the BBC News Website.

He claims the works were seized by Commons authorities, held for two weeks and said that he was told he would not receive full payment until he agreed to certain changes.

He said the row had eventually been settled "through the lawyers".


One of the drawings at the centre of the dispute is entitled "Feeling litigious?" and was made after the artist spent the day with constitutional affairs secretary David Lammy.

'Peel back the brain' Copyright: David Godbold/House of Commons 2005
'Peel back the brain' includes a Hunter S Thompson quote

Mr Lammy, who Mr Godbold praised as "perhaps the most generous and impressive individual I encountered", asked the artist to make a work out of an abusive letter he had been sent.

Mr Godbold illustrated the letter with a picture of Moses, alluding to the 227 promises made by Labour's election manifesto.

Another drawing, of a small child in a scene reminiscent of the nativity, was captioned with the words "peel back the brain, let the opium take hold and get locked into some serious pornography", a quote from American writer Hunter S Thompson.


Mr Godbold, who was paid 10,000 for the drawings, said it was "to the credit" of the Commons committee that all 18 were being exhibited, but he was still angry about the way he claims he has been treated.

Hugo Swire
The artist has a wonderful, fanciful imagination, which is why he has produced such wonderful works of art
Hugo Swire

"I was on the verge of not coming to the opening but I felt I had to see it through," he told the BBC News Website.

He claimed there had been a delay between handing the work in and the exhibition because the Commons authorities "didn't know what to do with the works. They didn't know how to handle them".

But Mr Swire, who took over as committee chairman after the election, said the suggestion that Mr Godbold's work had been censored was "frankly absurd".

"As the artist well knows, the one single issue raised in connection with these pictures was over the publication of one of his drawings on a racist letter which bore an identifiable individual's signature.

"That briefly raised some legal concerns here over copyright. But it is simply untrue that there was at any time any attempt to change the nature of the drawings.

"There would have been no reason to do so. The committee has told him how delighted they are with what he has done."

Exhibition space

Explaining the row, Mr Swire said: "The artist has a wonderful, fanciful imagination, which is why he has produced such wonderful works of art."

'None of the Above' Copyright: David Godbold/House of Commons 2005
Election leaflets were used by Mr Godbold

He said there had "never been any intention to delay exhibiting these pictures, far from it".

"But unfortunately we have had to wait for the committee to be re-nominated in the new Parliament and then to find a time suitable for everybody to attend, including David Godbold - and for the exhibition space to be free."

Mr Godbold's claim that the catalogue had been published at the taxpayers' expense after being rejected as "unsuitable" by the Speaker's Art Fund was also denied by Mr Swire, who insisted the book was a "commercial undertaking" by the publishers.

"There was indeed at some stage a prospect that the catalogue would be published under the auspices of the Speakers Art Fund, a charitable trust.

"In the event, it was decided that such a publication would be outside the educational ambit of the Fund. So it is being privately published by Edward Booth-Clibborn, with the House's blessing as joint owner of the copyright."


Mr Swire said he had decided not to attend the opening of Mr Godbold's exhibition, later on Wednesday, because he had to attend Tory leadership contender David Cameron's final campaign hustings.

'This Albion' Copyright: David Godbold/House of Commons 2005
The drawings are on show in Westminster

He said art committee deputy chairman, Labour's Derek Wyatt, would be attending on his behalf.

The fact that Mr Godbold, who suggested Mr Swire's absence from the event was "interesting", appeared to "see something sinister" in this showed "he doesn't know much about politics", added Mr Swire.

But he said he did not want the row to detract from the art itself, which he described as "very cutting edge for the House of Commons" and "in the best traditions of Hogarth" and other artists.

"Artists are artists and they have an artistic temperament. Politicians are politicians and we have a political temperament," he added.

Artist to capture campaign colour
15 Apr 05 |  Election 2005

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