It has to be said that I began writing this piece expecting to find Jacob Rees-Mogg a disreputable and low-key demagogue worthy of roundabout condemnation. Sadly, perhaps for the entertainment value of this article more so than anything else, it is not so easy to start on such a well-trodden path of put-downs. Many of his views are objectionable, with some rather egregious examples such as his sympathy for the Trump campaign (although he has since distanced himself in a face-saving move) but it must be said that I have found this disagreement not worthy of an attack on his character.
Polly Toynbee has written ‘his show of elaborate old-world courtesy is only a disguise for the deep discourtesy of extreme snobbery and contempt for hoi polloi. Sublime self-love and self-confidence will carry a man a long way’. I find this line of attack to be less than useful. It resorts to what is essentially mind reading which, I will boldly suggest, is not in the Guardian columnist’s toolkit. Perhaps Toynbee is on to something, but I would suggest that the best antidote to an opponent’s arguments is better arguments from oneself. However this piece is not an attempt to dismantle Rees-Mogg’s arguments although some of that will no doubt happen. This primary drive of this article is attempting to explore the fascination with his character and why he has developed such a polarising reputation.
The MP for North East Somerset is often described as an anachronism, a view with which he agrees: ‘I’ve made no pretence to be a modern man at all’. There is a valid perception that Jacob Rees-Mogg is slightly different from the rest. Calling him different is as blatant a truism as one can get but I would suggest this is the reason for a great deal of his early appeal, as opposed to his policies or beliefs. Internet culture thrive off people like Rees-Mogg, as anyone who is on social media will know from the incessant memes and clips that are posted of his latest amusing quips. #Moggmania, while no doubt semi-ironic, has got to be the most offensive example of this trend. It is clear that he has captured the imagination of many and he is an excellent way to accumulate ‘Likes’.
An eccentric demeanour in itself is often not enough to cultivate an audience however. A quick scan of YouTube clips serves up video titles such as ‘Jacob Rees-Mogg Laughing at Lefties Since Day 1’ and may others in a similar vein. He possess a sharp intellect and effective debating style which make videos of his quick retorts entertaining to watch, even if you don’t happen to agree with his points of view. It is true that the quick put downs are often unnecessary but it would be wrong of me to say that I was above such an approach myself. He is a great compliment to the childish partisanship of this country’s political system in which he eagerly participates.
In the divided landscape of the post-Brexit United Kingdom, Jacob Rees-Mogg adds further appeal to his persona through his ardent support of leaving the European Union. It was only after the referendum that his political views served to push him further into the limelight while reinforcing the support of many who admired him in the first place. His more frequent appearances in major media outlets is no doubt a result of this. There have been, and continue to be, many uncharitable attacks against those who voted Leave. To have someone as good at winning a debate as Rees-Mogg support your vote is understandably appealing. In the interests of not letting my own opinions on the matter of Brexit permeate too heavily this discussion, I will concede that he also presents some well-reasoned arguments that should at least prompt pause for thought in those who disagree.
It is true that Jacob Rees-Mogg has a fine grasp of constitutional procedure, governmental politics, and political debates. It is when he is asked to comment on matters closer to home that his quirky personality reveals an ignorance of actual hardship. When commenting on the increased use of food banks in this country, he replied first with a partisan attack on the Labour Party and then with a rather condescending rosy-eyed claim that it was uplifting that more well off people in society were happy to give to charitable causes. It is telling that it is hard to find many examples of his supporters defending these comments.
The hottest water Jacob Rees-Mogg finds himself in is when he expresses his views on same-sex marriage and abortion. For debates that can often get so heated it is unsurprising that many of his detractors rally against him when he states that, in line with Catholic doctrine, he opposes both. However, stating that someone is against same-sex marriage and abortion in themselves should not be enough to condemn them. One needs to explore why someone holds these opinions and then debate them. Anyone that bases a political or ethical decision on their religious views is at once worthy of scrutiny for the simple fact that dogmas on such matters are not substantiated by evidence and are therefore unlikely to change.
Jacob Rees-Mogg appearing on ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain’ where he outlined his position on gay marriage
Being of the opinion that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman is Catholic doctrine but today we live in a society which has thankfully mostly moved on from the religious view of marriage towards a more secular one. It can still be held as a religious ceremony should you wish but it doesn’t have to be. Jacob Rees-Mogg doesn’t seem too anxious to change the prevailing opinion on this matter however on abortion he is rather more condemnatory. His honesty can be complimented but it is unsurprising that comments highlighting his belief that an abortion after a rape is a second wrong land him in controversy. The problem with views such as Jacob Rees-Mogg’s are that they rest on a dogma, specifically the idea that life begins at conception, thus making the position rigid and resistant to change. Many people have argued that abortion is not always desirable on secular ethical grounds and they do so with a far greater level of understanding than those espoused in religious terms. It must be stated that if one wishes to express those views in public and perhaps have them enshrined in law, one needs evidence and reasoned argument behind the point. An acceptance of a religious doctrine will not do.
So, what do we make of Jacob Rees-Mogg? He will always be a polarising figure it seems. He appeals to many on his side of the Brexit debate and those who enjoy watching impressive debaters and he is rallied against by those who attack him for who he is (did I mention he was an Etonian?) and the more controversial positions he holds. He is an interesting character no doubt. I would conclude that he is not worthy of much of the contempt he receives from more left-leaning commentators. I hope it is clear that even if I find some of his views to be wrong, I would never want to have a society without disagreement on key issues. Disagreement is a vital part of progress. Will he ever be the Prime Minster? That seems unlikely, yet people said that Jeremy Corbyn could never be the Labour Party leader and he in a similar way caught the attention of many through social media. Jacob Rees-Mogg may someday rise to the top but in the meantime, debate against him if you wish to, enjoy his quirky charm if you want to, but don’t worry too much about his views. There are far more concerning people in the world.