When the tale is told of the first parliamentary vote of Boris Johnson’s premiership, it will mention his spectacular failure to win it; his removal of the whip from lifelong Conservatives including former cabinet members and Churchill’s grandson; and his loss of a majority, and potentially the forcing of a general election on a tired and bitterly divided British public.
But after the immediate repercussions of this weeks’ vote are over, there will be an image from last night that hangs around Tory necks for years to come: Jacob Rees-Mogg lying horizontal on the front bench as he listened to the debate, lounging insouciantly like a rebel child defying nanny, showing all the grace of Kevin the Etonian Teenager.
Rees-Mogg’s disdain for parliament, for democracy, for his colleagues could not have been made clearer. His body language screamed “I shouldn’t have to be here listening to you people”. It was a pose designed to suggest this debate shouldn’t have taken place at all. But it was a mistake – and one that will haunt him and his party for decades.
Every time a Tory is accused of being an out-of-touch toff, that image will be there. Every time we’re told how seriously the Conservative Party take the sovereignty of parliament, out it will come. Every time a Tory is accused of lying in parliament, there it will be.
If you ever got bored of seeing Ed Miliband eat a bacon sandwich, just wait until you see the mileage people will get out of this one. That one picture sums up every prejudice – fair or unfair – about Rees-Mogg and his Conservative Party: that they are out of touch; that they don’t care about the concerns of “little people”; that they are lounging on the job while the rest of the country works hard and still suffers. After all, no boss I’ve ever had would take kindly to me adopting a pose like this in the office.
Boris Johnson wants to run his long-planned election as parliament against the elites. What could look more elitist than appearing to refuse to take the job of representing the British people even remotely seriously?
And what if Rees-Mogg gets what he wants, as Johnson manages to take Britain out of the European Union without a deal? If that is even one tenth as tough as even the most optimistic positions, his supine figure will be the defining image of a government that put its own desires before the economic health of the nation it led.
In political campaigns images are essential. A picture speaks a thousand words. And Jacob Rees-Mogg just wrote Labour’s next election campaign.
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