Jacob Rees-Mogg, urbane, unfailingly polite, tough-as-nails Brexiteer has been touted as one third of what some are calling an unholy triumvirate, waiting to catch the headless chicken that the Prime Minister has become. Ministerial inexperience notwithstanding, he could be chancellor, but talk of him becoming prime minister is no longer seen as farcical. He was conjured into being by an eccentric cult of personality with a seasoning of Leftist mirth. It’s like a badly cast spell, but it’s far too late to shout ‘Riddikulus’ with a flourish of our holly wand with the phoenix feather core. In the search for an alternative to a pantomime Prime Minister for someone who could guide the country through its most challenging negotiations since the second world war, we have somehow given allegiance to a person whose views appear to be preserved in amber like the mosquito in ‘Jurassic Park’.
British politics has never been so toxic. It’s like pouring cheap hard liquor down our reluctant throats and expecting us to swallow without spluttering. The Left and the Right polarise like a horseshoe, their wild opinions meeting at the edges of reason. “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out”: the muttered incantation of the emperor in Robert Graves’s ‘Claudius the God’ seems dreadfully apposite, almost predictable, even.
We no longer have the luxury of certainty, no longer the indulgence to laugh at or dismiss the politically absurd, just in case an extreme anachronism really is elected. Every scuffle in the Conservative party is another round of Russian roulette for the country, except nobody knows if the chambers are empty or not. With Brexit, the unthinkable is not only thinkable: it is entirely feasible. Jacob Rees-Mogg is beginning to experience a few slings and arrows, sharply barbed, attacking not only his politics but his style. He has been variously described by his detractors – he seems much too polite to have enemies – the mildest being ‘not genuine’. It gets a bit more vituperative: ‘He epitomises a certain kind of public school snob and was called out on his fakery at the kind of school where they can detect such snobs. (I suppose this refers to Eton which goes to a lot of trouble to not be snobby and upper-crust) There are always a few of them about. ‘Let’s ‘impress the plebs,’ they say. That’s not to say he isn’t intelligent but he has made a living from impressing the upwardly-aspiring middle classes who think he’s ‘class.’’ (Not entirely, dear boy, but you are craning your neck a bit, so it’s hard for you to see the forest for the twigs, y’see.) ‘He’s good at it but is only an imitation of the ‘real thing; – think Alec Douglas Home. The latter was the real thing.’ ADH’s aristocratic bearing earned him a few brickbats – Harold Wilson came across much better on TV and JRM is a sharper version of Jeremy Corbyn. Another descends to this: ‘There is simply nothing gracious or laudable about Rees-Mogg, with his antediluvian views on women, the poor, the ordinary struggling citizen, the other, in fact anything beyond the narrow purlieu as seen from the leaded windows of his agreeable country pile.’ (Envious? Moi?) ‘Look at his appalling reactionary record on just about every social issue of the past two decades. Good manners come cheap (they don’t, actually) and just because he is an obsessive monomaniac (like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Gandhi…) with a sly, cunning and manipulative streak (oh, now, downright nasty) does not turn him somehow into a morally upright and credible candidate for the leadership of a parish council, let alone the government.’ (I wouldn’t trust Jeremy Corbyn to run a bath, personally.) ‘He has no experience of leadership, and is most certainly a hateful, deceitful and divisive figure.’ Something similar was said about Enoch Powell, if memory serves. ‘The only plus to him ever succeeding Theresa May is that he will hopefully bring the civil war within the Tory party out into the open and take the entire ship of fools down with him.’ Petulant leftie ranting laced with ad hominem bile at its very worst, I think.
Rees-Mogg is climbing the ladder, either by default, invitation or by deep and Machiavellian design nobody yet knows. His star is rising not only because he seems to be the only plant capable of flourishing in the toxic Brexit soil, but because there is something, in these base political times, genuinely transcendent about him.
With thanks to Guardian and Times commentators. Also, Harry Potter.