By Paul Goodman
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All voters who know nothing about politics know of Jacob Rees-Mogg is that he is a rather distinguished-looking and very well-spoken man in spectacles who they see out of their corner of their eye on television and then promptly forget all about. All people who know a little about politics know of him is that he fought a by-election somewhere in Scotland supported by his nanny, his under-butler, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Charles Moore, Georgiana Cavendish, Julian Fffellowes, the entire cast of Downton Abbey, and the chap who lays out the toothpaste on his toothbruth each morning. This proves that people who know nothing about politics grasp a great deal more about it than those who know a little.
A profile of Rees-Mogg in today's Independent reminds us, in case we'd forgotten, that he is not exactly a blue collar Tory, but also that he is in some ways a "Mini-Boris" – "charismatic despite being posh and an able politician who could explain
complex arguments simply and intelligently – without recourse to vacuous
sound bites". Quite so. If Ministers were appointed on the basis of ability, Rees-Mogg would be among their number already. What stands in his way, of course, is not only the Prime Minister's aim of appointing women as a third of his Ministers (a problem that he shares with all other male backbench MPs), but that he "reinforces Tory stereotypes" (a problem that he shares with a descreasing number of them, since the public school-educated proportion of Conservative MPs is falling).
I'm all for a wider range of candidates and MPs – women and ethnic minority members and working class people (who get a bit forgotten in the great diversity drive) and, above all, the poorer would-be candidates who just can't afford the cost of modern politics. But when the powers-that-be are so paralysed by self-doubt that they're almost too frightened to cough, something is badly wrong. What happened to promotion on ability? Rees-Mogg perhaps shouldn't be first in the queue to be dispatched to some by-election in Greater Merseyside – though he would bring more verve to the task than some of his colleagues – but he would make a perfectly good Under-Secretary at, say, the Environment or Transport or Climate Change. If the Conservative Party is too scared of its own shadow to make the Moggster a Minister, it scarcely deserves to survive.