Jacob Rees-Mogg has acquired something of a cult following. The uncannily old-fashioned Member of Parliament for North East Somerset could have been frozen in time at the turn of the twentieth century, reawakened for parliamentary service in 2010, yet he is a household name among young voters, irrespective of their political commitments.
Those familiar with ‘the Mogg’ know he is not unlike the ‘upper class twit’ that Monty Python once lampooned. It was in 1997 that Rees-Mogg got the attention of the public, canvassing in working-class areas of Central Fife with the assistance of his nanny. Even now, with children named Anselm Charles Fitzwilliam, Peter Theodore Alphege and, most recently, Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher, Jacob Rees-Mogg continues to live life according to the standards of a past era.
But appearances are deceptive; though he might look like the reincarnation of a 1920s stockbroker, Rees-Mogg knows plenty about modern life and realities, more so than most MPs. While some Cabinet minister struggle to remember the living wage, he is well-informed on a number of matters big and small, from complex European treaties to the prices of bread and milk. Even when he’s spouting party dogma for television appearances, he is at least able to argue for the cause rather than simply stating it, as other MPs do.
What’s more, Rees-Mogg has quite the fanbase. 32,000 web users follow his updates on Instagram and over 20,000 keep up with him on Facebook. He is the face of a number of meme streams on the web, including ‘Middle-Class Memes for Rees-Moggian Teens’. One website lets users sign a petition for the Somerset MP to become Prime Minister.
None of this should really make sense. Old Etonians and Oxbridge graduates do not get the best of public receptions in today’s political atmosphere; young Britons and students have plenty of disdain for the establishment and the Conservative Party.
So how does a rich, tweed-wearing, Brexit-supporting Conservative have such a following among the young? With his well-spoken eloquence and command of language, assisted by his impeccable manners and inability to be flustered, Rees-Mogg always entertains. Even when he is wasting parliament’s time, talking about Somerset cheeses, centuries-old legislation or the Battle of Agincourt, Rees-Mogg manages to make us chuckle.
In our current state of politics, Rees-Mogg is benign; in fact, he is quite harmless. The Conservatives are looking for people who can recite the party line, wherever they are; Rees-Mogg not only deviates from this at times, but can forge his own way. He is not just a pedestrian backbencher but a parliamentary rebel, voting against his party’s whip on numerous occasions. The biggest threat he poses to his own party is to mock them in a speech to the House of Commons.
Consequently, we have never had the need to hold Rees-Mogg to account on anything to do with government policy. In his seven years of representing North East Somerset in parliament, Rees-Mogg has never held any ministerial positions.
Compare him with another Old Etonian fond of Roman statesmen and old English institutions, Boris Johnson. Before and during his stint as the Mayor of London, his following came naturally from his fish-out-of-water nature and capacity to end up in stupid situations. He took a brick onstage at a party conference, tackled a child to the ground in a rugby match and dangled helplessly from a zipwire, in a safety helmet, suit and tie, over Victoria Park. He was, as a Huffington Post writer put it, a “scruffy-haired source of regular laughter who kept us giggling with his clumsiness, grandiloquence and exuberance.”
Whether he played the fool for the laughs or he really was as daft and hapless as he appeared in London, Johnson retained quite a following; a following that has pretty much dried up by now. Under the entertaining waffle, Johnson sneaked in lies during the referendum campaign. Like many of his stories for The Daily Telegraph years before, his claims about the European Union were often highly exaggerated and propped up by falsehoods. Johnson’s blunders and incompetence are no longer funny; they have real consequences and are well beneath the responsibilities of the Foreign Secretary.
Aside from occasionally rubbing shoulders with those who make his own views seem postmodern, Jacob Rees-Mogg has rarely been in trouble. He has deployed his gift of the gab to sabotage minor bills rather than major elements of policy. He is just a strange but eloquent backbencher; without putting his foot in his mouth on a sensitive topic, the quirky, well-spoken ‘toff’ can entertain us, whether cheerfully ridiculing the European Union or calling the numbers at a bingo hall for the “copper-bottomed socialists” gathered there.
Rees-Mogg’s popularity stems from his obscurity. His capacity to think for himself – something senior Conservatives do not appreciate – will keep him away from high office and away from much scrutiny. But all good things come to an end; politics is in a volatile state and perhaps, in the distant future, Rees-Mogg might become a member of the Cabinet. That will be the moment when the ‘Moggmania’ dies a painful death.