It’s a curious beast, popularity. At different times, the public awards it to completely contradictory figures – Blair, all polished teeth and fresh face; Boris Johnson, with his rumpled jacket and post-hurricane haystack Barnet; Nigel Farage, pint and cigarette glued in each hand; even Jeremy Corbyn, equipped with his air of drizzly fringe protests and geography supply-teacher awkwardness. Others who are cast in similar moulds might expect the same welcome, but find themselves disappointed when it turns out they have arrived at the wrong time (cave, Chuka Umunna).
It’s always fascinating to see quixotic public attention attach itself to a politician, particularly in the digital age, when a person can burst into prominence almost overnight. The process is hard to chart, and harder to predict – the first hum of interest is always accompanied by scepticism and doubt; are people laughing at or with the person in question? Are they mocking them, or warming to them as a recognisable character? At one point does a politician transition from having to be described in the news (“Boris Johnson, the former journalist turned Conservative MP”) to simply being identified by one of their names (the near-universal “Boris”).
We can see just such a process going on at the moment around a Conservative MP: Jacob Rees-Mogg. He has floated around the public consciousness for 20 years now, since he first stood for Parliament in Central Fife in 1997. That first foray into candidacy produced the famous story of him canvassing with his former nanny (a lovely lady, whom I have had the great pleasure of meeting) – it produced some mockery, but not much else beyond the anecdote.
Something has changed, however. Since entering Parliament in 2010, he has gradually built up a fan base through a combination of wit, wisdom and mild eccentricity. He went viral in 2012 when he used the longest word ever uttered in the Commons, “floccinaucinihilipilification”, and worked tirelessly to deliver a Leave vote.
Moggmentum has gathered online – a fondly satirical Twitter account purporting to be him has 18,000 followers (and is often mistaken for the man himself), supercuts of his best moments attract hundreds of thousands of views on Youtube, and his outings on Question Time attract an enthusiastic following. His Instagram account, accompanying photos of him out and about with his children with dry wit, has a sizeable cult following, and there’s now even an unofficial campaign to elect him Prime Minister.
Yes, there’s humour there – almost entirely intended – but there’s a degree of love for him, too, as a gentleman from another age, a champion for what he believes, and a politician who says what he thinks, how he wishes, without shamefully trying to fit in. I’m certain that he would prefer the time-seasoned air of a Trinity College library, but he is proving to be a breath of fresh air nonetheless.
None of this, of course, means that he will enter Downing Street – we don’t even know if he wants the job, and Ed Miliband could tell you that Milifandom never delivered him electoral success. But it should certainly be counted as a further reason for him to join the front bench, as this site has argued since 2013.