“I’m glad we’ve finally dispelled the myth that I’m too uptown for the tots,” says Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons. Perhaps this week has seen a similar breakthrough for Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for Somerset North East, who despite being a humble back-bencher has developed the sort of unlikely rock star following that none of his Parliamentary colleagues can match – apart, of course, from Boris Johnson. The Moggmentum army has been able to enjoy plenty of media outings from Rees-Mogg this week – both on the television and the radio (or “the wireless” as one suspects their hero was brought up to call it).
Thursday night saw Rees-Mogg on the panel of BBC TV’s Question Time. It was an assured performance which saw him well able to back up his points with evidence when challenged – for instance over the Corporation’s bias against Brexit.
When asked about killing British citizens thought to be fighting for ISIS, instead of embracing Trumpish populism he said:
“I think people are entitled to due process – one of the fundamental freedoms that we have as Britons is that we have a rule of law and that people are innocent until proven guilty. I’m not in favour of capital punishment, and I’m certainly not in favour of the state taking life without due process.”
A couple of days earlier Rees-Mogg was brave enough to be interviewed by Emma Barnett on BBC’s 5 Live. Several politicians have been caught out by this most ferocious of interviews. She did her best at Mogg-baiting but didn’t really get anywhere. Rees-Mogg acknowledged that his view that abortion should be banned was unpopular. However he explained his view that life begins at conception – and that allowing abortion to take place until a fixed number of weeks was “essentially arbitrary”. How much better than the evasiveness of other politicians – notably, of course, Tim Farron, the former Lib Dem leader.
Yet the biggest triumph came on Monday. Rees-Mogg spent three hours hosting a phone-in programme for LBC. Good-humoured, erudite, sincere, and self-deprecating, Rees-Mogg was a palpable hit. Far from being scared of those with opposing views, he urged them to call in – and then crushed them with scrupulous courtesy. He took a swipe at the “EU funded CBI” saying it is “a very good counter-indicator of what the best policy is. What the CBI says is almost always wrong.” On reports of police officers painting their fingernails he reflected “that’s a rum thing for the rozzers to do”.
There was a break from the callers when Rees-Mogg interviewed Theo Usherwood, LBC’s Political Editor, about a speech that Boris Johnson had just given. It included consideration as to whether a politician can tell jokes but also be taken seriously. Doubts about this are often expressed. Yet which human being does not sometimes speak humorously and at other times in earnest? This obvious defence applies to Rees-Mogg himself. For instance while he is rich he clearly feels strongly about the particular benefit that free trade has for the poor – that Brexit will allow cheaper food, clothes, and footwear – those basic essentials which take up a higher chunk of the budgets of the low paid.
It might seem paradoxical that someone as posh, old-fashioned, and eccentric as Jacob Rees-Mogg should be an effective political communicator in modern Britain. Yet with the public yearning for authenticity and straight answers he has captured the zeitgeist. We in the Conservative Party should be grateful to have such a powerful champion.