Thursday, 13 July 2017

A warning against blind faith in Jacob Rees-Mogg

I can only interpret the blind, panicked support for Jacob Rees-Mogg's leadership of the Conservative Party as an acknowledgement that the Tories are both in serious electoral trouble and lacking in inspiring politicians. What I find most peculiar about it all is that there doesn't appear to be a defined or particularly obvious political reason for his apparently looming promotion. Theresa May and the current cabinet are, admittedly, hanging on by a thread, and I am sure that there will be yet another General Election before long, but nothing about that points specifically to Mr Rees-Mogg. 

I should say here that I actually quite like Jacob. I have met him twice in person, both times during the EU referendum campaign, and in the flesh he is refreshingly polite and certainly very charming. Even my mother, a devout socialist and Corbynite, finds him to be more appealing than most who don the blue rosette. The oddity I have noticed with the festering support for him to be Prime Minister and leader of the Conservatives has nothing to do with him as a man. Moreover, it appears to resemble some sort of belatedly hatched plan B after this year's catastrophic general election campaign. And, what is more, there is very little to suggest that Mr Rees-Mogg would have achieved much better than the Prime Minister. 

Careful examination of Mrs May, once she had been exposed to the harshness of leadership and the Public Relations industry, revealed that she was above all a wooden performer and lacked the ability to really grip and entice her audiences. What Tory members don't seem to realise is that Jacob Rees-Mogg is similarly reflective of that very same disconnect. He is, much like the current Tory leader, a devout Christian and Oxbridge attendee, living in the peace and comfort of rural seclusion. Mr Rees-Mogg is also inescapably posh and the beneficiary of inherited wealth. I don't mean these things to be personal attacks upon him, but crucially, they are all correct and will help to form a general impression that he is out of touch with the struggles and interests of ordinary people (I actually hate the phrase 'ordinary people' but I don't quite know how to avoid using it). 

David Cameron and Boris Johnson, despite also being posh boys, both possess an undeniable charisma. Mr Cameron was nicknamed the 'heir to Blair' for a reason, and Boris has always been very effective at deploying his alter-ego as clownish buffoon to help distract from certain inconveniences in his personal life and political track record. Make people laugh and they'll forget about your shortcomings. It is to my great relief that both these gentlemen are now toxic and either wholly unelectable or far removed from influence. Mr Rees-Mogg is not disgraced in any way that I can see, but lacks the charisma, youth and thus mainstream appeal that other Tories have been lucky to have at their disposal. The situation reminds me slightly of Ruth Davison in Scotland. She too rarely attracts any negative attention, and this bubble of invincibility is, I fear, damaging to debate. 

The only way to transition the Conservatives into whatever their next era looks like will be to hold another election. The government is so frail that any internal division will cause yet more constitutional chaos. The Tories will oust May before the Brexit negotiations are up, or immediately afterwards, and another General Election will be called. He may be a respected parliamentarian, family man, ardent local campaigner and committed to the supposed aims and values of the Conservative Party, but capable of launching a coup during such a sensitive period Mr Rees-Mogg is not. 

My focus on his character and identity is deliberate. I am playing the game of those who are quite willingly using him as a battering ram against the current leadership. They are (rightly) dismayed with having lost seats in an election they seemed bound to trounce and striking a deal with a Democratic Unionist Party that will damage pockets of Tory support in more urbanised and metropolitan parts of the country. Real social conservatism is powerful in that regard, and that should go a long way to dispelling the myth that the Conservatives are anything other than liberals who mouth conservative sentiment when it suits them. Oh, and that reminds me, much like me, Mr Rees-Mogg's views on a range of social issues would make the modern neoliberal Tory wince in discomfort. 

The support for his whisking into Number 10 boils down mostly to his dedication to Brexit, articulate manner which very few opponents have been able to match in televised combat and portrayal as a figure cruelly blocked from top positions and deserving of some kind of sympathy. These may or may not be true, depending on your view, but they aren't necessarily reasons for the establishing of a 'Moggmentum' movement. In fact, all this seems to me to do is symbolise that our politics is too often architected by presentation and not nearly enough by substance. 

Tories reading may think this sounds harsh, but ask yourself a couple of questions: why do you think Mr Rees-Mogg would make a good leader of the Conservative Party, and, secondly, can you honestly imagine him standing at that shining blue podium during leadership debates seducing the British electorate into voting for him? If you can, then more power to you. I am happy to listen to your reasoning. But are you sure this isn't symptomatic of a party losing sight of its once fearsome polling leads and scrambling to recover from the losses it has incurred?

Jacob Rees-Mogg may, in his possible appointment, provide short-term relief from the painful Theresa May experiment. He may even evoke a certain sentimentality with older Tories, who remember the days of chivalry at home and the empire abroad. But he's not capable of commanding an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. And no amount of niceness or new children will change this. He is at best a plaster on a gaping and self-inflicted wound. 


  1. I think you're reading into Moggmania slightly too much. In spite of the fact that you appear to think he's old, he is, at 48, a junior backbencher with no cabinet experience and little chance of getting pushed into the leadership by his party, which is all-i,mportant in the way our political system works.

    Indeed, I think the recent upsurge in support is the result of internet meme campaigns which, like most of their type, can snowball rapidly for no obvious reason and create the illusion of a groundswell of support.

    1. I think your latter point is correct. This is largely an internet phenomenon. I wonder how many people in the country have actually heard of Jacob Rees-Mogg. It is worth remembering that Twitter is a crowd of people who tend already to be political.

  2. Some thoughts (and I'm not pro-Mogg by the way):

    People like Mogg despite his posh, old Etonian Oxbridge background because he doesn't try to hide it. The country is utterly fed up with spin and PR fakery which has been practiced by British politicians for far too long. People see through it very easily and assume that politicians think they're thick enough to fall for it, so it's largely counter-productive. All its done is breed a culture of complete cynicism within voters. Where May went wrong is she (well, her advisors) spun an ironically fake image of a woman who rejected spin and PR whereas Mogg is the real deal in that regard.

    We'll have to agree to disagree about Mr Cameron's alleged charisma (I can't see it personally) but Alexander Johnson certainly has it. Same with Ruth Davidson too-she attracted a great deal of criticism in the early days when she deserved it (she was totally awful up until the later stages of the independence referendum) but has really stepped up her game. Unfortunately she's not very conservative but whatever works....

    I think we agree that Mogg is totally unsuitable to be leader (I find his approach to Brexit incredibly ignorant and one that will lead to disaster, and yes I voted 'Leave' by the way), as are most of the current front runners (anyone but Mr Johnson!). In that regard I've long thought Sajid Javid as the only person with any credibility and capability left to become leader. Had he been brave enough to back Brexit (his Brexit cowardice being the only black mark against him) he'd probably have been PM rather than May.

    I think what most conservatives want as next leader is someone more socially conservative than Dave/May, unashamedly economically liberal, committed to 'Brexit' and who will put meritocracy rather than social justice at the heart of the government's social agenda (the one thing May kind of got right). Pragmatism rather than zealotry over Brexit would be a 'plus' for me though I fear the members want a zealot, which along with authenticity is the other driver of 'Moggmania'.

    1. Thanks for your comments. As far as Ruth Davison goes, when she attracted criticism, she had nowhere near the portfolio or significance that she has today. Since becoming a more notable player on the political field, in the past year and a half, she has received widespread support amongst both unionists and Remainers. Cameron is a brilliant orator and public speaker, much as I dislike him.