Initially I suspected that Moggmentum would die down once the shock of the election result had settled in and something resembling political normality resumed for the country. But it doesn't seem to have subsided in any way that I can tell. I still see quite widespread support for him throughout social media, particularly amongst Brexiteers, who are often guilty of mistaking opinion for virtue. I would add, though, that followers of Moggmentum tend to be those who are already very political. Twitter, itself a micro blogging site, is crammed with the politically aware and active. The real world is not, so I think we ought to get a little more perspective when determining Jacob Rees-Mogg's electability and popularity.
Heidi Allen, Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, understands this. I am pleased to see her tackle Moggmentum openly and reasonably. Like me, she recognises its limited potential. I produce below her comments on Radio 4's Westminster Hour yesterday morning:
"I couldn't be in the Conservative Party if he [Rees-Mogg] was my leader. That's nothing nasty or to slight Jacob at all, he's incredibly charming, very generous, been very welcoming to me as a new MP, we often sit quite close together."
Expanding upon this, she says:
"He is not the modern face of the Tory Party that we are or I am certainly and colleagues are desperate to prove is out there. He is fabulous in his own right but he is not the future and I am desperate for us to find that future."
The interviewer then referenced recent comments from Mr Rees-Mogg himself, who said that if he threw his hat into the ring for leadership it would be thrown back at him. Ms Allen said she 'would help with that', which I thought made her sound a little too aggressive.
The disappointing part of the interview is that Ms Allen did not draw on what specifically it is about Jacob Rees-Mogg which makes him a weaker candidate for party leader and Prime Minister. I think she avoided going into detail so as not to be drawn into useless squabbling and controversy, which was probably smart of her. Politicians often find use in saying as little as possible, especially when discussing internal affairs. I also believe that she may regret saying that she would play no part in the party if Rees-Mogg did indeed become leader (and there is every chance he'd be voted for). Last summer's Michael Gove saga taught us, if anything, that MPs and ministers who claim not to have leadership ambitions are not always telling the truth. It is possible that Mr Rees-Mogg will be convinced to stand for leadership despite his concerns about it.
Ms Allen's remark that he is not the modern face the Tory Party is crying out for is correct. I wrote at this blog a few weeks ago that Jacob Rees-Mogg's views on a range of social issues 'would make the modern neoliberal Tory wince in discomfort'. I stand by this comment. His pursuit of Christian-based social conservatism is what I think Heidi is referring to in her interview. The Tories appear to be more electorally successful when they adopt more liberalising leaders. This is why I think the party is secretly holding out for the inevitable accession of Ruth Davidson, admired for her modernising political stances, such as her support for same-sex marriage, and old fashioned rigour when defending the British Union.
If the parliamentary party thinks along the same lines as Heidi Allen, then many will be sweating over the potential ramifications of the Foster-May Agreement. The DUP's weight being thrown behind government policy, given their rigid social conservatism, may end up demoralising more liberal Tories, especially those in more metropolitan parts of the country. We shall see at the next election whether the alliance has any longstanding consequences. My hunch is that it will.
Social conservatism doesn't have a future if we think purely in terms of political parties. It will have to be defended by dissecting issues and treating them as separate entities, whether through referenda, think tanks, research or other campaign groups. We can still be effective, like we were with immigration during the EU referendum. The question for us is what battles we pick and where we fight them. Jacob Rees-Mogg can't change this and will struggle to collect any substantive mainstream appeal. This may, in part, be due to the country's hardened stance against austerity and Rees-Mogg is both a beneficiary of inherited wealth and inescapably posh.
And as for his future, I consider him an effective backbencher and think he should remain where he is, if holding political office is to remain his intention. It's nothing personal; having met him before I know how charming he is. But Tory members will need to look elsewhere, scouring the drying talent pool in their party, in order to find a more pragmatic solution to the Theresa May and Brexit problem.