Scottish Daily Mail

A rapier wit adds to the gaiety of politics but it takes more to be a leader


JACOB Rees-Mogg is everywhere at the moment. He’s on TV so much I fear the producers of Question Time have lost Nigel Farage’s mobile number. Videos of his parliament­ary speeches attract hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.

He even gained the respect of rivals after being jostled by far-Left protesters at a university event this month.

His amassing army of fans want him to replace Theresa May and they’ve been making quite a racket about it. Speaking of rackets, the bookmakers have him odds-on favourite to be the next Tory leader and polls of party members consistent­ly put him on top.

His appeal rests on his fervent Brexiteeri­sm and his traddy, top-hat-and-tails image. He presents as an end-of-the-pier Enoch Powell, a vaudevilli­an spin on High Tory reaction – Sunday Night at the Palladium as hosted by Maurice Cowling.

All this has helped him usurp Boris Johnson as the Tory celebrity du jour.

Like Mr Johnson, he is an idiot’s idea of a savant, at the ready with an eruditesou­nding epigram but as elusive as Macavity once you’re done fact-checking his latest assertion. Censorious Leftwinger­s damn him for his Catholic views on marriage and human life but the case against Mr Rees-Mogg is not that he is too severe but that he is too flippant. He is a man who keeps talking because he fears when he stops he will be found out.


The frustratio­n felt by Brexiteers is sincere. They find Mrs May too wishywashy in her dealings with Brussels and long for a British bulldog to set about these bothersome Continenta­ls.

Mr Rees-Mogg, a backbenche­r free from the compromise­s of government, speaks in appealingl­y blithe asseverati­ons. Mr Johnson once did the same and has learned, mostly to the cost of others, that being a minister requires more than a quip here and a Latin pun there.

Yes, replacing Mrs May with Mr ReesMogg would wrong-foot the Brussels negotiator­s and enrage the Corbynista­s but parties should not choose their leaders merely to troll their opponents.

This is a serious moment and it demands seriousnes­s not just from politician­s but from us. We are embarked on the greatest political, economic and constituti­onal upheaval in decades in the form of Brexit. There is also the small matter of a rabble of Stalinists and terrorist-sympathise­rs perched perilously close to 10 Downing Street. These are not times for glibness for entertainm­ent value.

Celebrity is not new in politics. Ronald Reagan was a B-movie actor before becoming governor of California and later President. But, contrary to the caricature of a folksy cowboy, he had been steeped in union politics as president of the Screen Actors Guild.

He had also read extensivel­y, from Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to Whittaker Chambers’s Witness. He may have spoken in avuncular anecdotes but Reagan had a fully thought-out philosophy of government and human affairs.

Mr Rees-Mogg does not give the impression of a thoughtful man. Indeed, his judgment is open to question. Last month, he and Brexit minister Steve Baker told Parliament a prominent EU policy analyst had admitted Treasury civil servants gamed economic modelling to keep Britain in the customs union.

When the wonk denied the allegation, and offered a recording of the event on which no such remarks can be heard, Mr Baker apologised. Mr Rees-Mogg did not and, worse, repeated the charge. It was far from the behaviour of the gentleman he portrays himself to be.

In 2013, he spoke at a dinner held by the Traditiona­l Britain Group, a Powellite sect on the outer fringes of the radical Right. When Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, was recognised for her campaignin­g with a peerage, Traditiona­l Britain decried it as a ‘monstrous disgrace’ and Baroness Lawrence as ‘totally without merit’. ‘She, along with millions of others, should be requested to return to their natural homelands,’ the group added.

It also referred to London-born Labour MP Chuka Umunna as ‘a Nigerian’ and Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, a Kurd who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq aged nine, as ‘foreign’.

Mr Rees-Mogg professed his shock and disassocia­ted himself from the organisati­on. Yet, he had been warned in advance by anti-racist activists at Searchligh­t. His only diligence was to ask Conservati­ve Central Office about the group (it had never heard of them) and to make a phone call one hour before the dinner began to its vice-president Gregory Lauder-Frost, whose assurances were enough for the North East Somerset MP.


Of course, this was the same Gregory Lauder-Frost who was a central figure in the Monday Club, a pressure group kicked out of the Tory Party in 2001 for advocating repatriati­on. Traditiona­l Britain’s president Lord Sudeley told a Monday Club meeting in 2006 that ‘Hitler did so well to get everyone back to work’.

I’m sure Mr Rees-Mogg finds such views repellent but supping with the devil is an occupation­al hazard when your career is one long strut of provocateu­r fogeyism.

There is a genre of Right-winger who never grows out of the theatrical Toryism of their student days and boozy dinners that demand sound opinions and sounder constituti­ons. Their taste in claret improves with age but their ideologica­l palate never advances beyond dry revanchism and the ideologica­l machismo of competitiv­e contrarian­ism. Mr ReesMogg goes down well with Tory students because his worldview is theirs: a thump of the table and a cry of ‘no left turn’.

Some of our best leaders have been outsiders but that doesn’t mean every crank with a witticism is the next Churchill.

‘Mogg for PM’ is not a cry against the political system but a surrender to it, an acceptance that it’s all pointless so why not have a little fun along the way. Jacob Rees-Mogg is a first-class turn and politics is brighter for having him in it. He is not a leader and not a Prime Minister.


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