| Katherine Haddon |
LONDON (AFP) – As “House of Cards” returns for a third series, the British Members of Parliaments (MPs) who inspired its scheming anti-hero are playing out their own tragicomedy before a general election, complete with plot twists to do him proud.
Many British MPs love the show and one of its catchphrases – “You might very well think that, I couldn’t possibly comment” – has been used repeatedly on the floor of the House of Commons.
But, despite growing behind-the-scenes scheming ahead of elections in May, some complain that political dramas like “House of Cards” are an unfair portrayal of real life in Westminster’s neo-Gothic halls.
“There’s probably a grain of truth in it but I don’t think we’re quite as ruthless as bumping people off,” Conservative lawmaker Michael Fabricant told AFP in a parliament tea room.
“Or let’s put it this way, I haven’t found out,” said Fabricant, a fan of the show who was an adviser on the original British TV version of “House of Cards”.
Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, starts the new series of the TV political drama premiering in London on Thursday as US president, having schemed and murdered his way into the West Wing.
His devious asides to camera and “FU” cufflinks provide a constant reminder to viewers of his defiant, vaulting ambition.
The hit Netflix series is based on the 1990s books and BBC TV series by Michael Dobbs, once a senior adviser to Margaret Thatcher who is now, as Baron Dobbs of Wylye, a member of Britain’s House of Lords.
Underwood is an American version of Dobbs’s character Francis Urquhart, a dapper, Machiavellian figure determined to make it to the top.
Dobbs got the idea for the story of a ruthless politician who is determined to do anything to become prime minister after the 1987 general election.
Thatcher’s successor, John Major, told him that “House of Cards” had done for the perception of his job “what Dracula has done for baby-sitting”.
While Underwood-style murder and blackmail may not be on the agenda at the House of Commons, sometimes politics can be almost as ruthless as on TV.
This week, two former senior ministers, Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, were forced out of their parties over claims they improperly touted for lucrative private sector work in a sting by journalists.
“It is a ruthless game,” Fabricant said.
“Malcolm Rifkind has had to stand down as an MP and you think, ‘well, I don’t believe he had technically broken any rules at all’ but of course it was perception and close to the general election.”
Fabricant said that while his constituents often refer to “House of Cards”, their perception of him is shaped by the reality of his “grinding, hard work” as a lawmaker rather than any fictional account. But some of his colleagues have raised concerns.Hazel Blears, a former Labour minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, has spoken of how popular culture “reinforces the idea that politics is disreputable” and detracts from “any sense that politics can be a decent activity”.
Professor Steven Fielding of Nottingham University in central England has written a book, “A State of Play”, about fictional portrayals of politics and agreed drama can play an “important if insidious role”.
He said that politicians were often portrayed as “sane and decent” in fiction until the 1980s but that this had yielded to a bleaker view amid growing political disengagement.