From Fletcher to the House of Cards

Michael Dobbs—alumnus, novelist, and member of the House of Lords—is a visiting professor at Tufts
Micael Dobbs at Tufts
Michael Dobbs chats with members of the audience after a book talk on “House of Cards” at Ginn Library on October 19. He has two public talks on campus on October 25. Photo: Jake Belcher
October 23, 2017

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Michael Dobbs is bringing his political perspectives to the Fletcher School for a two-week stint as a visiting professor—and he’s talking about a lot more than political thrillers.

Dobbs, F73, F75, F77, is a longtime British Conservative Party political operative, a former advertising executive, and author of House of Cards, along with many other novels. Since 2010 he has also been a life peer in the House of Lords, with the title Lord Dobbs of Wylye.

His two weeks at Tufts will be filled with meetings and discussions with Fletcher students and faculty, and several public events, including the discussion “Bringing Books to TV,” sponsored by Tisch College, and a political debate titled “Nationalism vs. Globalism: Will Brexit Be the Ultimate Litmus Test?”, both on Wednesday, October 25.

Dobbs’ connections with the Fletcher School go deep. “I left Fletcher in 1975, forty-two years ago,” he said. “I was here for five years, and not a week of my life has passed since that I have not had some sort of contact with the school itself or colleagues or friends from the school. Of the five dearest friends I have in the world, four of them are Fletcher grads.”

After earning an M.A., M.A.L.D., and Ph.D. in nuclear defense studies at Fletcher, he worked for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party, alternating with stints at advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. He famously started writing the novel House of Cards after a blow-up with Thatcher; its depiction of a brutal world of British political intrigue was translated to American TV with the popular Netflix series, which is now in its fifth season.

Dobbs was a vocal proponent of Brexit—the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, which is the topic of the debate with Professor Amar Bhidé, Thomas Schmidheiny Professor at the Fletcher School on October 25.

“I’m a reluctant Brexiteer; it’s not being anti-European,” Dobbs said. “But everywhere you go around the world, you find the elites and the establishments have become more arrogant, and voters in every part are saying ‘We’ve had enough, you’ve let us down.’ The establishments are not doing what they are supposed to do. The EU is an establishment par excellence.”

He’s also critical of how the issue has been portrayed in America. “I have been appalled at the lack of understanding that the American media have been putting out on this,” he said.

While politics seems like it has gotten nastier than ever before—and the U.S. irrevocably divided—Dobbs takes the long view. He has just been watching Ken Burns’ documentary series on Vietnam, and offers a different perspective.

“In America in 1968, there was blood on the streets, there were riots, buildings were burning, the country had been torn apart into two militant camps that were killing each other,” he said. “So what’s going on now isn’t unique. Though it has some unique aspects, if you put it into perspective, societies have these moment of crisis; they recover and learn their lessons, and decades later they will make similar mistakes and have to learn those lessons again. The point is, this is not unique, this is not the collapse of Western civilization.”

Dobbs said he is an optimist. “This is another part in the growth process. We’re better than we think we are,” he said. “I’m not one of those who see doom in every corner, but I see challenges—challenges that we have overcome before.”

“Bringing Books to TV” will be held at the Rabb Room, Tisch College of Civic Life, 10:30-11:30 a.m. on October 25.

“Nationalism vs. Globalism: Will Brexit Be the Ultimate Litmus Test?” will be held at ASEAN Auditorium 5:30-7 p.m. on October 25.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

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