Amongst the more unexpected political developments over the summer was the emergence of the unofficial ‘Moggmentum’ campaign, an effort by some activists to facilitate Jacob Rees-Mogg’s assent to the leadership of the Conservative Party. According to the most recent survey by the Conservative Home website Rees-Mogg, the charismatic if unconventional backbencher, is the favourite amongst Tory members to become the party’s next leader.
Of the numerous online groups supporting a potential Rees-Mogg leadership bid the biggest is Ready for Rees Mogg, which has collected over 26,000 petition signatures of support, along with 10,000 Facebook likes and £5,000 in cash. I spoke to 23 year old Sam Frost, who founded the campaign along with 27 year old Anne Sutherland, about what group wants to achieve and how it plans to achieve it. As this interview will make clear the organisation is deadly serious about helping Jacob Rees-Mogg become the next leader of the Conservative Party, and have put a good deal of thought into how this can be achieved.
Ready for Rees-Mogg was founded on 9 June 2017, the day after the Conservatives disappointing performance in the 2017 General Election. Frost is clear that this was no coincidence. He explains that the group emerged ‘definitely party because of the disappointing general election result…after the election which was just full of soundbites and not much else people wanted someone with a genuine conservative vision’. In this respect he agrees there is a direct parallel with the Labour activists who turned to principled ideologue Jeremy Corbyn following Miliband’s poor performance in 2015.
Conservative MP for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg
Frost admits he was surprised how quickly the movement grew. He explains that after the groups launch it ‘almost got 1,500 Facebook likes overnight’ in response to which they decided to create the now 26,000 strong petition calling on Rees-Mogg to run for the Conservative leadership at some future date. The group also raised £5,000 via a crowdfunding site, which it has spent on website costs, Facebook ads and posters.
Frost was keen to emphasise that his movement, as well as most of the other pro Rees-Mogg groups, is run by and disproportionately appeals to the young. Of the group’s pledges of support to date, he estimates around half have come from people aged under 30. All this has been achieved without any contact with, or input from, Rees-Mogg or his staff. Frost notes that they are considering ‘reaching out and trying to set up a meeting’, but haven’t made a firm decision yet.
So what is it about Rees-Mogg which appeals to so many young Conservatives? According to Frost it’s a mixture of personality and ideology. He admires Rees-Mogg’s charisma and honesty, his history of fighting for what he believes in regardless of conventional opinion and without recourse to spin. This clearly matches one of the key reasons for Corbyn’s initial appeal to Labour members. But beyond this Frost sees Rees-Mogg as a defender of true conservative values. In particular he notes his consistent support for Brexit, and his support for free-market capitalism whilst opposing ‘massive monopolies’.
We turn, invariably, to Rees-Mogg’s social conservatism, and in particular his recently restated controversial opposition to abortion in all cases and gay marriage, both clearly linked to his Catholic faith. Frost admits that ‘me personally and the co-founder Anne don’t agree with his stance on that’ before adding ‘but you have to respect somebody’s right to practice their faith and it’s not going to become law…even if he becomes Prime Minister’. Frost believes Rees-Mogg’s honesty in answering this question mean the issue won’t dog him in the Tim Farron was by queries about his attitude to gay sex, and adds that there has been ‘no immediate downturn in his support in the last couple of days’ in pro Rees-Mogg social media groups.
In terms of tactics the group has clearly thought its plans through. Frost explains that they have modelled themselves on ‘the draft movements you see in the US which tend to happen two years before an election is held’ which aim to both encourage a potential candidate to stand and provide them with a readymade campaign if they do.
Frost is clear that the group sees its biggest challenge as getting Rees-Mogg selected as one of the two candidates chosen by MPs to go before the membership, Conservative Party rules meaning Rees-Mogg will need the support of a good deal more than the 35 MPs who got Corbyn on the Labour ballot paper. He explained that ‘should Jacob get to the final two when it goes to members, the membership of the Tories are definitely more right-leaning than the Parliamentary Party so I don’t think he would have much of an issue there’. However Frost added that ‘we obviously understand that with Jacob being so outside of the Conservative establishment it’s going to be slightly trickier for him to get to the membership – we have to lay that groundwork early and really do the hard work now’.
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP surrounded by his family
I ask Frost whether he’s concerned that a successful Rees-Mogg leadership campaign could split the Conservative Party. Tory MP Heidi Allen has already stated that she will leave the party if Rees-Mogg becomes leader. He admits that ‘is there a risk that some MPs would be unhappy? Probably’ before stating ‘But are they actual conservatives? Probably not. I’m not really bothered about it and I think the people who support Jacob and see him as a potential leader and Prime Minister wouldn’t be worried about losing a few MPs who aren’t truly conservative’.
As we conclude the interview Frost underlines that ‘our ultimate goal is to get Mogg on the ballot paper…we’re definitely committed to that happening’. So can they succeed? Well in a world which has Donald Trump as American President and Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour Party, who would say for certain that Jacob Rees-Mogg won’t become the UK’s next Prime Minister?