Jacob Rees-Mogg has refused to rule out one day running to become leader of the Conservative Party.
Speaking to Tory activists in Westminster on Tuesday evening, the backbench MP also sharply, if politely, criticised Theresa May’s election manifesto for not being “proud enough of being Conservative”.
Earlier today, a Conservative Home survey of the party grassroots revealed Rees-Mogg was the firm favourite to succeed May as Tory leader.
Asked if he would “categorically rule out” ever putting himself forward for the job, Rees-Mogg quoted from Jim Hacker, the central character in Yes Minister who wanted to, and eventually became, prime minister.
“I remember Jim Hacker’s answer from Yes Minister,” Rees-Mogg said. ‘I have no ambitions in that direction but if my friends and colleagues advise me that in some humble capacity I could serve my country’, that of course that meant ‘yes’.”
But while he did not rule out running to be party leader, he said it was unlikely to happen.
“Let me be absolutely clear. I am not a candidate, there is not a vacancy. I fully support Theresa May and want her to continue,” he said
“The answer to your questions is it’s simply not something that is going to happen.”
Rees-Mogg added that he doubted the party would ever feel “so desperate” to catapult a backbench MP such as him right into the leadership.
His election as Tory party leader is seen as unlikely as Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent to the Labour Party leadership, straight from the backbenches, was in 2015.
Speaking at the event organised by Conservative Voice, Rees-Mogg said party activists should not be shut out of choosing the next leader.
“We can not believe in democracy in our relations with Europe, in the country at large, if we think the leader of the party should be decided by a cabal in Westminster,” he said.
Speaking about the Tory general election campaign that resulted in the party losing its Commons majority, Rees-Mogg said the manifesto was “too cautious”.
“I think our manifesto was not proud enough of being Conservative. I think it was too focused grouped,” he said.
And he slammed the party structure since 1997. “Momentum has shown you can get a large membership organisation off the ground, but what we have done is suck the lifeblood out of the voluntary party,” he said.
“The tragedy of this was the Conservative Party, that believes in a bottom up structure, it’s modern structure is a top down 1940s state planning outfit.”
Rees-Mogg also defended Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary who instituted an overhaul of the benefits system when the coaltiion came to power in 2010.
“I am so proud of what Iain Duncan Smith has done,” he said, before adding a dig at George Osborne. “Not least becayse he was booted out and didn’t go off and edit a local free sheet.”