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Political analysis, informed by British miniseries

Those of us addicted to British television series about randy and corrupt politicians, and the randy and corrupt journalists who keep an eye on them, know just from looking at David Cameron, the new prime minister, that he has to be having an affair. Most likely with his incoming transportation minister, the somewhat horsey Ashley Downes, who is also his wife’s best friend and Keeper of the Geldings for the Queen, her distant cousin on her mother’s side. This explains why, the moment he entered 10 Downing Street, he veered to the right, and his wife, Samantha, veered to the left, so he could make a phone call in private, and so, as it happens, could she. “Mummy,” she was heard to say, “he’s calling her!” But Cameron astonished the Fleet Street hacks who had tapped the phone at Downing Street, having sworn to both M and Q at MI5 and MI6 that they would never reveal state secrets, only sexual ones. The new prime minister did not call his usual mistress, but a former one who is blackmailing him about their affair and the fact that he is afraid of horses. Her name is Luvvy, and she had a first at Oxford, and a 2nd, 3rd and all the way to 14th at Cambridge.

As gamey as this sounds, it is a mere nothing compared to the time Prime Minister Francis Urquhart lured his mistress, the journalist Mattie, to the rooftop of the venerable House of Parliament -- and threw her off. No doubt she deserved what she got, because she was surreptitiously taping him for her own corrupt journalist’s purposes -- a triple redundancy right there, I would say. This all happens in the peerless BBC series of some years back, “House of Cards.” It is quite simply the best thing ever done for television and the finest piece of British writing since the Magna Carta. More or less.

I learned pretty much all I know about British politics from that series and some others, including “The Politician’s Wife,” in which everyone is cheating on everyone and, of course, “State of Play,” in which a journalist harbors a politician whose mistress is murdered and then has an affair with the politician’s wife. It is the sort of thing that has happened to me over and over again in my career, secrets I will take to my grave or to my agent, depending on the state of my 401(k) and all.

By now you understand why I suspect David Cameron of being your typical (post-Churchill) prime minister. It helps, of course, that his wife is the daughter of a baronet and the stepdaughter of a viscount, both of them automobiles of some sort, I believe. Women such as she were raised to keep silent and serve tea. Either that, or they are as ambitious as their husbands and facilitate extra-marital affairs for political purposes so that some day they can both live at 10 Downing and eventually have their own mini-series.

Of course, I know much more than I am telling. Those BBC dramas taught many lessons, among them the value of discretion.


By Richard Cohen  | May 12, 2010; 11:51 AM ET
Categories:  Cohen  | Tags:  Richard Cohen  
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I saw that series, too: My Mother the Car.

I look at David Cameron through the prism of The Rt. Hon. James Hacker, MP, and so thought his phones calls upon entering No. 10 were very courageous.

Posted by: jbritt3 | May 12, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Viscount? Isn't that the UK version of a Cadillac coup d'état, you know, their two door model?

Posted by: drlatham22 | May 12, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

' ... the finest piece of British writing since the Magna Carter.' Magna Carter! The most clumsy piece of American writing since Magna Carta.

Posted by: AlanofOxford | May 12, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

How can you not mention Jim Hacker? Yes Minister and the sequel Yes, Prime Minister are possibly the best British TV that I have ever seen.

Posted by: Skippy21 | May 12, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

The "Magna Carter"? Think you need a quick edit of this piece.

Posted by: gposner | May 12, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Richard - If at all possible, RUN, don't walk and find a copy of Yes, Minister. It's the comedic backend to British politics.

After that, I'd suggest Drop the Dead Donkey, as great a send up of the papers as you'll ever see.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 12, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Magna Carter? Wasn't she Jimmy Carter's crazy aunt, the one that they kept locked in the attic?

Posted by: hisroc | May 12, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

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