House of Cards and a tragedy of mistaken heroes

Back when I was a student at University, anyone who was interested in politics and saw themselves as having a future in parliament was avidly studying the TV adaption of Michael Dodd’s House of Cards as diligently as they were paying attention to their actual subject.

The protagonist in the original House of Cards is Francis Urquhart, the chief whip in a post Thatcher government.  Urquhart exudes menace and manipulation as he plots his way to the very top job. He becomes Prime Minister and seeks to stay in office at least as long as Maggie.  To do so, he has to battle opponents on his own side of the House and even the new King.  Ultimately though, it’s his own past demons that catch with him and bring him down.

Those in student politics parroted his strategy -that you only had to appeal to 40% of the electorate as though it was fully proven political science.  They also learnt his memorable quotes, most famously “You might say that .. I couldn’t possible comment.”

I was reminded of that as Gavin Williamson resigned from the Government for the third time. I think that record even beats that of another hero for political schemers, Peter Mandelson.  It has been reported that as chief whip, Williamson looked up to Urquhart as some kind of role model.  Maybe he even expected the role to offer a route to the top job.

The problem that so many of today’s high ranking politicians seem to have is that at the time they were studying politics, they missed the point.  First, House of Cards was meant to be Tragedy not comedy (in its traditional sense) and certainly not a text book for politicians.  Francis fails.  He loses everything.  He offers a cautionary tale not an example.

This means that Urquhart is not the hero of the story. He is the villain and a tragic one at that. Ultimately he is to be pitied not to feared and certainly not to be respected, honoured and copied.  Today’s aspiring political leaders would do well to get this point drilled into their brains.

Christian leaders would do well to learn the lesson too.  Sadly, over the past few years we’ve seen the exposing and fall of people that for the previous two decades were being lauded as heroes, most notably Mark Driscoll.  It’s important that we recognise that when these men failed it wasn’t despite all of those things that were offered as the pattern for success in ministry but because of them.

It’s important that we learn the right lessons both from fiction and history.  The number one lesson is this.  We should not be making heroes out of flawed men.  The example we must look to is Jesus alone.

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