By Mike Forster, Socialist Alternative West Yorkshire
Socialist Alternative is saddened to hear about the death of Alan Hardman, the political cartoonist for the Militant in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, who sadly passed away in hospital last week. Alan was one of a very rare breed of socialist whose skills and dedication helped to amplify the message of socialism through his entire life. His skill lay in the political cartoons he regularly produced, which could convey quickly and simply political messaging which were usually designed as a commentary on ongoing events.
However, Alan’s skills also lay in all things mechanical. He was taken on as a full-time organiser for the Militant in the 1970s to ensure the regular production of the newspaper, which began as a monthly broadsheet but quickly became a weekly colour publication, which served as an essential building block for the MIlitant, especially in the 1980s.
Alan was called upon to ensure the paper was ready and printed for every edition. Given the hand-to-mouth existence in the early days when there were only a few hundred members and a small full-time staff, Alan would often be seen grappling with old and outdated machinery to keep the presses rolling, sometimes with nothing more than a screwdriver and spanner. But he always made sure that deadlines were kept to and the vital message of socialism went out to every local area. In reality, he ensured that machinery which was past its sell by date continued to function, against all the odds.
As the Militant grew, finance was raised to ensure more modern print equipment could be used and Alan was more free to focus on his passion for his cartoons. It is not possible to convey the impact these weekly images had on the wider labour movement, yet Alan had not had any formal training in art or graphics. Like most things he undertook, Alan was self taught.
He used cartoons to lampoon Labour and Tory leaders of the day, including depicting Thatcher as Plunderwoman and Blair as a puppet of the US Bush regime. As wide scale factory closures ripped through working class communities, Alan captured the mood of the moment with a young lad questioning his father clutching his redundancy notice if he could buy back the pit when he leaves school. This cartoon was produced as a poster and appeared on placards on numerous protests against pit and steel closures.
Very often, Alan could produce an idea and image within a few minutes but on other occasions, he would sit in on discussions about how to convey a particular message with one comment and cartoon. However, in everything he did Alan was a perfectionist and would produce many mock ups until he was satisfied with the final product.
When Alan’s skills were no longer needed at the main offices of the Militant in London, Alan moved back to his native Yorkshire. Although he had been born and raised in Barnsley, he went to live with his family near Keighley in West Yorkshire where he continued to play an active part in the national and local work of the Militant and latterly the Socialist Party. Every week, he was commissioned to produce his cartoons and would painstakingly meet the deadlines from his workshop, which were then faxed down to London until more modern technology came on the scene. This work continued on a regular basis until his untimely death.
I was fortunate to work with Alan in Huddersfield in 2015 when he offered to help in our election campaigns at the time. Alan was keen to produce props we could use on stalls to attract attention and designed first a 6 foot clenched fist, which made us really stand out. He went one step further during the general election, when he made a 25 foot massive raised fist again which he secured in a supporter’s garden overlooking the main road. It took six of us to secure it in place. Alan was delighted with his work and the structure certainly turned heads! It was then he told me his true love in life was not art but sculpture. Clearly, he was a comrade of many many talents.
Alan’s work is thankfully being commemorated by a group of former Militant members who, under the working title of ‘Need Not Greed’ are reproducing his collected works. Alan was still alive to get involved with this project and was hugely proud his work was being recognised. This book will now serve as a lasting legacy to Alan’s life and works. All Socialist Alternative supporters and members would be well served to buy a copy when it is published.