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Brexit offering a window of opportunity for 'quirky' Jacob

PUBLISHED: 13:52 03 June 2018

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
Photo: PA / Yui Mok

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP Photo: PA / Yui Mok

PA Archive/PA Images

Jacob Rees-Mogg doth protest too much, methinks.

Let’s get this absolutely straight, Mr Rees-Mogg is on permanent secondment from the 18th century for two purposes: to ensure the UK quits the European Union with as few ties as possible and to lead his party.

Until very recently he held no real hope of ever actually leading the Conservatives or indeed becoming prime minister.

But something rather extraordinary has happened in Western politics – the rise of populism. And it could very 
well lead to the likes of Mr Rees-Mogg gaining the very highest office.

Populism by definition is the supporting of the rights of the people against the privileged. On the surface this might appear to be a million miles away from Mr Rees-Mogg’s stately pile in the country, first-class education and traditionalist views. But bear with me.

There has been a backlash against elitism. The two best examples are the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the US.

Both of those campaigns promised a lot. Both campaigns offered the hope of the common man “taking back control”.

And Mr Rees-Mogg spied an opportunity.

He is a high Tory, he is a nationalist and he is socially conservative. He believes the UK should be built on these ideas and, like most politicians, wants to see his beliefs borne out.

And like Mr Trump before him he is now employing a strain of right-wing populism to win supporters.

For now this is based almost solely on Brexit. Mr Rees-Mogg is a dyed-in-the-wool eurosceptic. On this issue, and others in fact, he would not have been out of place joining UKIP.

His rise to prominence has been on the back of campaigning first for the UK to leave the EU and now for that exit to be a clean one. And as the chairman of the powerful group of Tory backbenchers, the European Research Group, he has Number 10 spooked. And with “the will of the people” rhetoric spurring Mr Rees-Mogg and his band of Brexiteers on, the air of populism grows thicker.

The team around Theresa May is taking him very seriously.

“I don’t think there will be a leadership challenge before Brexit,” a Tory source said. “But if there was one I am certain it would come from Rees-Mogg and the ERG.

“Those very polite notes and letters that they keep sending to the prime minister are not received and read with glee I can assure you. The prime minister is being dragged in all kinds of directions and the ERG are not helping.

“The fear is, of course, that she cannot keep everyone happy and finally there are enough MPs who are willing to spark a leadership contest. The ERG have the numbers and the will.

“And Rees-Mogg almost certainly wants to be the PM. I don’t think he can quite believe he is even in the running but he is an astute chap and has spotted his opportunity.

“I think he will definitely stand whenever the next leadership election is but I am not sure he can win. MPs would be concerned about how some of his views on issues aside from Brexit might go down with the public.”

And another Tory MP agreed saying “if he were to force a leadership fight – which I’d strongly suggest he should not – he won’t win, some of his views are too toxic”.

Mr Rees-Mogg is opposed to abortion in all circumstance – including in cases of rape. He is opposed to same-sex marriage. And he supports zero-hours contracts. These types of views are not typical of party leaders who tend to come for the centre of their parties so not to alienate large factions.

But for now he is happy to stay on topic: Brexit. It is within this safer area for him where he believes he can gain momentum. And he is trying every trick in the book.

He has taken to travelling to media appearances with his son in tow – a mini Mogg if you like. It is a more than an attempt to seem normal though, it is cleverer than that. Mr Rees-Mogg isn’t normal – and that is the thing that draws people to him, it is his best attribute in many ways. By dressing his son up in suits much like his and employing matching side-partings he is saying: “Aren’t we eccentric and quirky? Very British.”

Mr Rees-Mogg has a very small window of opportunity to become the Conservative’s new Boris Johnson – loved by the grassroots and intriguing to the public.

His chance is coming but only because of Brexit.

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