Published:

By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

Jacob Rees-MoggWith the the news reservoirs running dry, the papers have hungrily devoured Jacob Rees-Mogg's encounter with the Traditional Britain Group.

In a nutshell, Rees-Mogg spoke at their dinner, and it has since emerged that the TBG espouses some disgusting ideas about black and asian Britons returning "to their natural homelands".

It's a scandal, and justifiably so – if an MP speaks at an event they are giving some kind of endorsement to their host, as well as assisting them by driving up ticket sales. The group in question is racist, and Jacob has now wisely submitted to public questioning over his decision to speak at the event and taken the opportunity to utterly reject such views.

He is able to do so because he is not a racist, and would never have knowingly accepted an invitation from someone who was.

He is in this situation because he fell victim to two factors.

The first is his own naivety. He should of course have checked more fully what the TBG believed – particularly having been warned of their nature shortly before the event. But having asked CCHQ whether the group was acceptable, he was told it was not banned – and took that to mean the answer was "yes", which is not necessarily the same thing. He also naively relied on the assurances he was given by TBG itself – their sense of honour evidently falls well below his own.

This is obviously a weakness, but remonstration should be followed by forgiveness. Rees-Mogg is a traditionalist of the young fogey type, where a "traditional Britain" is identified, with some tongue in cheek, as buttered crumpets, pocket watches, good manners, memorising Rupert Brooke and knowing your club ties. As an example, the first time I met him, we talked about direct democracy for five minutes before he dashed off, returning with his prized possession – a lock of Charles the First's hair.

Being unworldly is the point of The Mogg, as his legion of fans call him. 

If we want more human characters in politics, and fewer hard-nosed automata who only ever do the strategicaly logical thing, then sometimes they will make honest mistakes. Jacob's was to think that, like him, anyone interested in a traditional Britain would reject something as ugly and inhumane as racism – evidently he was wrong. He should be pulled up on the error, and he has acknowledged his mistake, but he should not be made a pariah for it.

The second thing he fell victim to is an ever-present threat to political parties: extremist entryism. 

No party likes to talk about this, but just about all of them have been targeted at some point by one or more entryist cliques.

The Conservatives are apparently being targeted at the moment by the TBG (I gather there have been some other, failed, attempts to gain positions in a couple of local associations). UKIP have variously been the focus of unwelcome attentions from the BNP and the EDL, to the extent they specifically ban former BNP members from joining (not always successfully). Labour famously faced down Militant Tendency in the 1980s, and you could argue Unite pose a similar, better funded, threat today.

The motivation is always the same, whether the infiltrators are fascist, communist or whatever. An extreme ideology is normally held by a relatively small group of people, whose dedication exceeds that of most of the rest of the population, while larger parties may have numbers on their side but are in desperate need of ardent volunteers.

In such circumstances, it's obvious that extremists would do best by using their abnormal commitment to overcome their numerical weakness. Therefore they set out to make themselves indisposable to their mainstream host, with the eventual aim of marching through its institutions until they control it.

Happily, this normally fails – often because extremists may be dedicated but they are often bonkers, and also because people are rightly watchful for such behaviour.

Nonetheless, the threat is always there. In this case it seems the TBG took advantage of Jacob Rees-Mogg's old-fashioned good faith in order to exploit him in the pursuit of their sickening cause. He should have been more alive to that risk, but it is a risk that will probably never go away. 

The tactic, like the views of those who deploy it, is a recurring disease of the political system on all sides – we must watch out for it, but the risk it poses will never be completely prevented.

Comments are closed.