It seems lately that those who know nothing of politics become enamoured with politicians. This is no surprise; policy details are complex, never mind the intricacies of parliamentary procedure, the layers of bureaucracy and accountability, and the actual legislative process that turns political ideas into reality. After all, most people either don’t have the inclination or the time to read through manifestos or speeches and decide on the finer details of ideology or philosophy, and so the natural recourse is to the original practice of British politics – who is my local MP, and do I like him or her? Of course, the party machines are so entrenched now that this discussion abstracts itself out to parties at large and, as well all know, the leadership.
Everyone has heard, at the very least in passing, of the Moggmentum craze, the (ineffably popular) grass-roots movement to see Jacob Rees-Mogg (the “Honourable Member for the 18th Century”) carried into the leadership of the Conservative Party, despite only being an MP for seven years and having no ministerial experience – but then, David Cameron had only seven months in the shadow cabinet before he became opposition leader. Whilst his detractors bemoan his aristocratic relations, old-fashioned mannerisms and, some say, anachronistic parliamentary style, his supporters point to his erudition, his personal success (he is unbelievably wealthy, largely through his own efforts), and the unashamed defence of British institutions that he presents daily as proof of his credentials for leadership.
But there’s a danger here; some publications have already pointed to the Left’s experiment with ministerially-inexperienced politicians – one Jeremy Corbyn – as an example of a less-than-mainstream leadership allowing the extremist elements of an ideology to push through and dominate the party.
Now, Jacob Rees-Mogg has never given fawning praise to dictators in South American countries – or on any continent for that matter – but what the Right may see as understandable politics, the Left (and to a degree, most people) may see as radical ideological stances. Consider his opposition to gay marriage – those of the party who agree with Rees-Mogg tend to do so to protect religious freedom (the Marriage Act (2013) preserves the Church of England’s Canon Law, for example) while liberal modernisers in the party are typically in favour of liberalising marriage laws because of the freedom and legal recognition it confers on homosexual couples.
It is possible that, should Rees-Mogg take on the leadership or enter the cabinet, he would bow to the realpolitik of governance over ideology, and modernise his voice. But it is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I implore Rees-Mogg supporters now: if you support him, do not encourage him to run for the leadership.
The role of our elected representatives in parliament is not that of delegates, but of trustees – meaning they offer their own perspectives and judgement in debate, rather than act as voice-boxes for ours. But it is not merely their constituents whom they represent; as Edmund Burke noted in his speech to the Bristol electors, the role of a member of parliament is to act in the national interest, and the nation as a community (especially in conservative philosophy) is not merely a conglomeration of individuals, but a society of the dead, the living and the unborn, all of whom we consider in our actions. This may sound eccentric, but consider the constant invocation of “leaving a better world for our children” in debates around the deficit.
It is for this reason that figures like Rees-Mogg need to stay on the backbenches, where the articulation of marginalised voices can be heard clearly. The policy stances he is known for, resonate powerfully with much of the conservative grassroots, especially the young. But outside of this echo chamber, the appeal of Rees-Mogg is perhaps a little less intense, to say the least.
If you are a supporter of Rees-Mogg, consider that the time may not be right for him to climb to the leadership; especially as it may force him to change his political style.