Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man│ Ben Khamis
The Tory party faces a challenging obstacle which may scuttle our chances at the next election: finding someone who can stop Corbyn’s political juggernaut. Welcome to the stage Jacob Rees-Mogg – the well-mannered, tweed-jacketed MP for North-East Somerset. Until recently, Mogg was little more than an eccentric backbencher known for his long words and classic mannerisms. But as the Brexit negotiations roll on and no obvious leader emerges, some are looking to Mogg as the answer.
On one level, his appeal is obvious. In a political era that has snubbed conventional politicians and embraced the mavericks, Mogg certainly offers the Conservatives something that Theresa May never could. Partly, this is due to his political ‘authenticity’. In the same way that voters took to Trump’s frankness, Mogg’s candour might find an audience. His views are clear, uncompromising and bold. The fact that he never pretends otherwise has won him unlikely plaudits, including from Labour’s Jess Phillips who admitted that “he is no identikit politician; he is always completely authentic.”
His personality also helps. Mogg’s unique blend of self-deprecating humour and verbal acrobatics, as showcased in his panel show appearances and use of social media, has proven popular with a certain type of voter. Mogg has over 40,000 Instagram followers and over 50,000 twitter subscribers. His eponymous but sadly unofficial meme paged, titled Middle Class Memes For Rees-Moggian Teens, has a further 43,000 likes. To me, this online status seems indicative of a leader capable of connecting with the new generation.
Measuring politics through meme pages is obviously a bad idea. But nevertheless, Mogg does enjoy a cult of personality, and people have taken to his aristocratic charm. But being popular as a quirky, marginal political figure is not the same as being fit to lead a political party. There are a number of reasons why perhaps Mogg could never make the step up. Firstly, there is the fact that he himself has stated firm faith in Theresa May to lead the Tories through the 2020 election, and that as of yet he has no aspirations of leading the party. Rather than a career politician, Mogg considers himself primarily a businessman, a subject which has involved him from a young age. Secondly, as much as it pains me to admit it, Mogg’s more subtle but still powerful style is perhaps not so suited to a leadership position, which, when done successfully, requires a certain amount of political and charisma-based “strength,” if you will, which, I doubt he can master without jeopardising his current manner, although this does not exclude him from front bench positions. (A combination of David Cameron at No. 10 and Mogg at No. 11 is a utopia that, sadly, we will never see.)
There is also the issue of Mogg’s social conservatism on topics such as gay marriage and abortion, which would be at odds with the average voter and which would give the opposition an excellent talking point. Despite his claims that he only holds those views due to his Catholic upbringing, and has no conviction to attempt to revert any recent change in social laws, they are still an ugly blotch on an otherwise excellent front bench candidate, which, along with his style and mannerisms have earned him the nickname, “The Rt. Hon. Member for the Eighteenth Century.” And yet, I take seriously what Professor Philip Cowley said recently after he interviewed Rees-Mogg in front of an oversubscribed audience at Queen Mary University of London: “I’ll make only one observation, based on last night. If he stands in any forthcoming leadership contest, if he gets through to the last two, he’ll walk it.”
However, despite the apparent issues preventing him from assuming leadership, he does seem a cunning and possibly unexpected answer to Labour’s sudden swing to the left under Corbyn which has so far defied the expectations of nearly everyone and significantly boosted the party’s support. After the Conservatives were forced to push “centreward” in response to the Blair and Miliband New Labour opposition, should we not reclaim our ground on the right as Labour did on the left? Yes, it is possible that some moderate Tories may be alienated, but it’s worth considering that many of those moderates only came aboard during the Blair era, or the Liberal partnership, when sympathies lay in the centre. Is it not time for a new generation, or possibly iteration of the Tory party? Elevating figures like Mogg to the front ranks may well cure the muddled atmosphere of British Conservatism that has come about since the Brexit referendum.
On we move to the House of Lords and their influence on Brexit – a flashpoint at the intersection of tradition and reform and potentially a tough one for Rees-Mogg, whose father was a life peer. “There are reminiscences in relation to the Lords in 1909, that instead of having belted earls voting down an increase in taxation that would hit them, you’ve got retired eurocrats desperately trying to ensure that their beloved project is maintained,” he blazes (in a sober tone), warning that “peers vs the people” is a battle the people always win.
The people who disrupted his speech at the University of the West of England might as well have been paid to do so by the Moggmentum campaign. The story was big on mainstream and social media, and it was all about Rees-Mogg standing up to bullies. He has done it before (“Jacob Rees-Mogg politely takes on angry protesters at Conservative Party conference”) and every time it makes him stand out more clearly in a politics painted in broad brushstrokes of primary colours.
This time it got him on the Today programme, so that the row over his accusation that Treasury civil servants breached impartiality – the charge that they doctored the figures to undermine Brexit – could rumble on for another day.
I thought Corbyn’s dogmatic socialist and neo-Trotskyism was a minority interest that wouldn’t work in British politics, but I overlooked the importance of his authenticity. It hardly mattered what it was about: one or two themes struck a chord and his unchanging commitment to them raised his profile.
I am not making that mistake again. Get ready for Jacob Rees-Mogg, Prime Minister.