THE BLOG

Moggmania Won't Last, But We Should Pay Attention Anyway

10/09/2017 22:42
Ben Pruchnie via Getty Images

Something happened this year that threw an obscure Conservative MP into the public eye. No one knows for sure, but, in the post-election chaos, someone swore they heard a voice in the background asking, "What about Jacob?" and ever since, everyone has been talking about Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming Prime Minister.

Jacob Rees-Mogg was all over the headlines last month. Like dogs with new toys, the media and the commentariat took Rees-Mogg, shook him up and down and dropped him after something else came along. But Rees-Mogg wasn't old news for long afterward.

As the situation for the current Prime Minister becomes more and more untenable, Rees-Mogg has been asked here and there about whether he's going to step in. The beleaguered Conservative meme machine, Activate, recently engaged in Rees-Mogg-worship before its creators claimed to have fallen victim of hackers. Most recently, the Old Etonian was cornered on Good Morning Britain, where many viewers were shocked to discover that a Catholic did not approve of abortion or same-sex marriage.

Once again we ask ourselves why the man retains a cult-like following despite being so old-fashioned. Part of the appeal is the amusement to be enjoyed from his anachronistic mannerisms and lifestyle, which he makes no effort to tone down. Rees-Mogg celebrates the work of his family nanny, harks on about centuries-old parliamentary legislation and will tell you all about the perils of socialism. It's easy to sit back and treat him as a source of a good giggle.

It will be harder to laugh if he gets a promotion. Being a minister would give him something to do besides filibuster parliamentary bills and would keep him and his department in the spotlight for much longer. Moggmania will swiftly die out when exposed to regular, proper scrutiny.

But Jacob Rees-Mogg has one key advantage over his rivals. There's no beating around the bush: he's authentic. We can tell him apart from other MPs. The fondness of Latin, the accent, the dress sense that he has imparted to his children... they'e all genuine aspects of his character. What you see is what you get. (Which father would be cruel enough to name his sons Anselm and Sixtus unless he truly believed them to be good names?)

Granted, authenticity doesn't make his views any better or worse. Just because we know for sure that he certainly does think that abortion is wrong in all circumstances doesn't mean that criticism is forbidden. But it's doing wonders to his image nonetheless. The status quo is getting tiresome and the clamour for radical change grows all the time. Voters are in the mood for something new; they want a break from political centrism, soundbites and spin. That's why more distinctive figures are gaining ground.

Authenticity won Jeremy Corbyn a lot of support. People could make a clear distinction between him and other politicians. In a time when Labour and the Conservatives were so often said to be the same party, Corbyn stood out.

Authenticity also worked for Donald Trump. Americans enjoyed how he spoke his mind and "told it how it is". They liked how he would dispense with political correctness and go straight for the jugular. He had not been carefully crafted and spoon-fed libertarian philosophy and free-market mantras by Republican strategists. When he bellowed and rambled at his rallies, voters knew that he was being himself and not what others wanted him to be.

To draw a theatre analogy: in a world where the top thespians have been reading the script verbatim, the audience is turning to the improvisers and the ad-libbers, the actors who haven't quite mastered their lines or would rather be doing another show.

(Note that I think that Trump lowers the bar for American politics and leadership almost every day. But he got elected and his authenticity contributed to his victory. Tempting as it is to condemn Trump as evil incarnate, we have to be realistic and acknowledge how setting himself aside from other Republicans and defying conventions earned him votes.)

Back at home, the Conservatives have been thriving on maintaining an image of professionalism. The previous campaigns have been designed to compare a competent and polished Conservative party versus dangerous, untamed, out-of-control Labour spendthrifts. It could be summarised as, "We know what we're doing, they don't."

The 2017 election campaign revealed the façade. Now voters want something they can confidently call 'Conservative'. People are looking past the stale ramblings about long-term economic plans and strong-and-stable governments, written by spin doctors and PR wizards, to someone who can put opinions - good ones, bad ones - into words on his own.

The Conservative Party is unlikely to let Jacob Rees-Mogg near Downing Street. Being someone who can do plenty more than recite tedious soundbites, he doesn't fit in with his seniors' idea of a good MP. But we should still pay attention to why Conservative voters, whether in jest or in sincerity, are turning to him as their next leader. It's a clear sign of how people feel about politics today.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS