The Death of Francis Urquhart

I have just finished watching the original House of Cards trilogy, a BBC production that originally aired in three four-episode series (1990, 1993, 1995). The protagonist is Francis Urquhart (pronounced urk-ert, and played by the late Ian Richardson). Urquhart is meant to be a caricature of a callous, mendacious conservative. Thus he is portrayed as having murdered and ordered the murders of several persons who posed threats to his advancement and possession of power.

Despite that portrayal — or, rather, because of its implausibility — I sympathized with Urquhart because he served as a stand-in for Margaret Thatcher. His supposed loathing for Thatcher did not conceal the purpose of the producers of House of Cards, which  was to discredit Thatcher’s espousal of personal responsibility and the rule of law.

In the end, Urquhart’s wife — a Lady Macbeth in modern guise — has him killed. She does this ostensibly in order to save him from political disgrace. But her real purpose is to hold onto power by elevating a new surrogate. She is the very model of a modern, amoral politican.

House of Cards, is a good example of an old liberal device: Erect a strawman; label it conservative; and then attack it with inflammatory rhetoric. Truth be told, the real Francis Urquharts of the world — the non-murderous defenders of personal responsibility and the rule of law — are to be commended, not caricatured and castigated.

So, three cheers for Francis Urquhart, whose moral certainty is sadly lacking in politics — American as well as British.