The ‘eccentric toff’ who could lead Britain
Could Jacob Rees-Mogg be the Jeremy Corbyn of the right? “Moggmentum” is gathering pace as Tory Brexiteers seek an alternative to the “dull, dull, dull” government of Theresa May.
The favourite to become the next leader of the Conservative Party is an ex-banker worth over £100 million. He once went canvassing with his family nanny. He is an expert on Latin and has been dubbed the "Honourable Member for the 18th century".
It is time to take Jacob Rees-Mogg seriously. Following the Conservative Party’s disastrous election, Tories have been desperate for an alternative to Theresa May. Most experts believe she is highly unlikely to fight another general election.
Many Brexiteers, ever-suspicious of the government’s conviction in pushing through a “proper Brexit”, have turned to Rees-Mogg. He consistently tops next leader polls among the party membership.
Rees-Mogg, who is not a member of the Cabinet, denies that he wants to become PM and has publicly backed May.
But there can be no doubt that he is seeking greater influence. Two weeks ago he was elected to head the influential European Research Group, a Eurosceptic group of Tory MPs. He has used his now ubiquitous TV appearances to pour scorn on the Bank of England and the Treasury’s approach to Brexit.
Rees-Mogg’s supporters believe that he can be the Tories’ answer to Jeremy Corbyn. According to Professor Philip Cowley, Rees-Mogg would “walk” any leadership election. “They’ll love him because he is unapologetic. He argues for capitalism unashamedly. He’s basically a pinstriped Conservative Corbyn.”
Like Corbyn, Rees-Mogg’s career on the back-benches has allowed him to say more or less exactly what he believes. In a party perpetually desperate to appear more modern, he lies well outside the establishment.
Yet this outspokenness could also be Rees-Mogg’s downfall. A practising Catholic, he is openly against abortion, even in cases of rape. He also opposes same-sex marriage.
But to his supporters, that is simply another example of his authenticity and his unashamed conservatism. As Paul MacInnes writes in The Guardian, “Brits still love a good toff”. Enough to make him prime minister?
Get your bets on now, say some. If the last two years tell us anything, it is that the public are fed up with dull, establishment politicians. The Conservative Party appears devoid of ideas or ideology, and Rees-Mogg would provide both. Add to that his personal charm and his support among the young, and a Rees-Mogg premiership does not seem so far-fetched.
Calm down, reply others. There are many obstacles in Rees-Mogg’s way. As he has stated himself, no-one has ever gone straight from being a back-bencher to being prime minister. He would also need the support of over 100 MPs just to get on the ballot paper, which he would struggle to get. And are we fed up with Old Etonians anyway?
- Do you think Jacob Rees-Mogg will be the next prime minister?
- Would you vote for him?
- Think of three politicians who might well be the next prime minister. Give two reasons why they should get the job, and two reasons why they should not.
- Read the third item in Become An Expert and write a 500 word response on British people’s attitude towards class, “poshness” and “toffs”.
Some People Say...
“I say what I think”Jacob Rees-Mogg when asked why he is popular.
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Jacob Rees-Mogg is 4/1 with some bookmakers to become the next leader of the Conservative Party. We know that he has great popularity among the party’s heavily pro-Brexit membership, but that his fellow MPs are less convinced. We know that the pressure is growing on Theresa May to either step down as prime minister or start being more decisive.
- What do we not know?
- Whether Rees-Mogg could really appeal beyond the right of the Tory Party, and especially to young people. British politics has become increasingly divided along age lines, with 60% of those aged 18-24 voting Labour in 2017, while 61% of over-64s voted Conservative. We also do not know whether Rees-Mogg is telling the truth when he says he does not want to become prime minister.
- Ex-banker worth over £100 million
- The investment company of which Rees-Mogg is currently a chairman, Somerset Capital Management, has $7.6-billion under management, with offices in London and Singapore.
- Polls among the party membership
- Conservative Home’s most recent poll had 18% of members choosing Rees-Mogg, ahead of Michael Gove on 14% and Boris Johnson on 12%.
- Bank of England
- Rees-Mogg has frequently criticised Mark Carney, the Canadian head of the Bank of England, for being publicly anti-Brexit in the run-up to the 2016 referendum. He says he has been “consistently wrong” about the impact of the UK leaving the EU and has called for his replacement.
- MPs in the cabinet, ie, not on the back-benches, are bound by Cabinet collective responsibility, meaning that they must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them.
- Old Etonians
- Of the 54 prime ministers to date, 19 attended Eton, Britain’s most famous public school. They include David Cameron, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan.