Jacob Rees-Mogg invokes the George Soros trope – and shows he is unfit to lead the House of Commons

He is polite and emollient when he wishes to be, but also, as when he emulated some languorous Edwardian caricature statesman by reclining on the green benches, inadvertently appears to lack respect for the place and those in it

Sean O'Grady
Friday 04 October 2019 15:04
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Jacob Rees-Mogg accused of anti-Semitism after criticising George Soros in the Commons

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who wears suits that look as though his tailor is trying to drown him, is really turning out to be the least attractive adornment to the Johnson administration. He was foolish to invoke the name of George Soros in the current debate about people making money out of Brexit. It’s said that some people associated with Boris Johnson and Brexit have a large financial vested interest in seeing no-deal Brexit succeed, because it would crash the pound, which they have, in effect, betted against.

The suggestion is that the government is being influenced in its actions, and Johnson’s leadership campaign was supported by people who stand to make vast sums out of a no-deal Brexit. This is something that the former chancellor, Philip Hammond, has raised, and his concerns were echoed in the House of Commons by the shadow leader, Valerie Vaz. Rees-Mogg’s response is that Soros is “one of the major funders, allegedly, of the Remain campaign, the sort of Remoaner funder-in-chief … who made a billion pounds when sterling crashed out of the exchange rate mechanism, which is five times as much as Mr Odey is said to have made”.

Which is also a rather different matter, as Soros was not then involved in lobbying John Major to crash sterling out of the ERM and, so far as it was known, was not a big-time Major supporter in the preceding 1990 Conservative leadership election. It was a play on the collapse of a fixed exchange rate that was down to market forces and the determination of the UK government to defend it. Such short-selling ploys have worked at other times in the past, and at times they have backfired, like all shorting operations.

Rees-Mogg knows a bit about money, and the difference between what was happening – in terms of individuals’ roles – in 1992 and today. It was a cheap and not a particularly effective debating point. He is no antisemite, but Rees-Mogg can be careless, tactless and tasteless as much as anyone else. He ought not to have placed himself in a place where he can be attacked for echoing similar internal Jewish conspiracy nonsense that has disfigured political debate for centuries – and led to the appalling consequences that shamed humanity in the 20th century. Soros, in particular, is a common object of abuse from the far right and those in his native Hungary still searching for scapegoats.

Imagine, as so often in such cases, if it had been Jeremy Corbyn or some Labour figure who had let such a silly stray remark about Soros fall from their lips. The calls for an inquiry by the Conservatives would be deafening and used as another example of the (real) problem of antisemitism within the Labour Party. The Tories, and Boris Johnson, should apply the same standards to themselves as they set for others. Rees-Mogg should be told to say sorry.

Of course, as is his way, Rees-Mogg was also fairly shameless in admitting the role played by another very rich man, Crispin Odey, and how much he may profit from no-deal Brexit, even as thousands of British workers and farmers lose their livelihoods. Rees-Mogg went on at Ms Vaz: “So I fear all she is saying is that Mr Soros is a better hedge fund manager than my good friend Crispin Odey, who is a great friend of mine and, indeed, supporter of mine.”

It reminds me of a curious moment in the recent, and excellent, fly-on-the-wall Channel 4 documentary Tories at War. Chronicling events over the summer, in one scene Odey pops up and is happy to be interviewed about his support for Boris Johnson and no-deal Brexit. Speaking in July, Odey said: “If you’re looking for somebody who wants to carry out Brexit, you want somebody who actually will think once he is crossed, how do we get this done.”

“And you may at the same time have to create 100 new peers at the same time in the House of Lords.

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“You’re not going to change this current parliament, so you’ve got to dissolve it in some way.

“And of course it’s going to be the only way that we are going to be able to heal the rupture that is Brexit.”

Odey also thought aloud about the two sides of Johnson as “Boris One and Boris Two”.

He stated: “My phrase is, there’s Boris One and Boris Two. Boris One is a charming guy who tries to get everything by charming people, and bringing a bit of enthusiasm where there hasn’t been any. And says, ‘Come on, surely you can see where your future lies.’ That’s Boris One.

“Boris Two, which nobody’s really seen, is the one where Boris One has been denied and he is then fighting for his survival. And the interesting thing is, all of the risks to Boris about being unscrupulous then become part of his genius.”

It was this unscrupulous “Boris”, he said, that could be prepared to prorogue parliament and appoint new lords in order to get Brexit through. He didn’t add then, though it turned out to be the case, that his friend Rees-Mogg would be the chap flying to Balmoral to proffer the unlawful advice (by the highest court of the land) to HM the Queen.

Crispin Odey has shrugged off the allegations against him, calling them “crap”. “Does anyone have any influence on Boris? If you meet anyone who has any influence on Boris I’d like to meet them,” he added.

Much like his colleague Johnson in the role of prime minister, Rees-Mogg has been a disastrous leader of the House of Commons. He is supposed to, in part, represent the views and sentiments of the Commons to the cabinet. He is supposed to behave in a less partisan fashion than others. He is polite and emollient when he wishes to be, but also, as when he emulated some languorous Edwardian caricature statesman by reclining on the green benches, inadvertently appears to lack respect for the place and those in it. As much as anyone, apart from Mr Johnson and the attorney general Geoffrey Cox, he has made cross-party cooperation more difficult and no-deal Brexit much more likely. Except of course that his beloved parliament has passed legislation banning a no-deal Brexit without a vote in the House of Commons. Will Rees-Mogg be the first leader of the house to connive in defying the will of the House of Commons? It is he who looks to be part of a political conspiracy.

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