There are two schools of thought about Jacob Rees-Mogg. One is that he is a charming throwback to a previous, more elegant, age; a self-conscious anachronism, a man whose double-breasted suits are so oversized it looks like his tailor is trying to drown him, but basically harmless. The other, is that he’s a prat.
I cleave, as the JRM might put it, to the latter view. Today’s laddish, blokey, chauvinistic Tory party has a distinct problem with women – promoting them and being supported by female voters. But not just women. Whatever our gender, we cannot miss the fact that we have a gang of over-entitled public schoolboys running the country for their own benefit. For the few not the many, you might say. People who lack all empathy for those less rich and privileged than they are.
Now, as if acting as a deep-cover secret Labour party agent, along comes the leader of the House of Commons and lord president of the council to confirm everything we feared and loathed in the current incarnation of Conservative leaders. When Rees-Mogg remarked, with astonishing cruelty, that the Grenfell victims “lacked common sense” and, he implied, were themselves to blame for their own deaths, he was not only heartless, but wrong. We are, all of us, taught endlessly to follow the instructions given to us by the emergency services, under any and all circumstances.
As the initial report of the Grenfell Inquiry indicates, the advice the London fire brigade gave to the residents in the tower to stay put until they were rescued represented a death sentence, and the fire brigade stuck to that advice for far too long. How many of us, including Rees-Mogg, would be strong enough to ignore the fire service? Maybe if we had all gone to Eton we’d be endowed with that indefinable quality of confidence that such institutions are supposed to offer...
It is, then, Rees-Mogg who so obviously lacks common sense, and has rather a surfeit of self-confidence, in saying such things in the way he does. Were it not such a stupid thing to say, and so offensive, it could be written off as part of endearing intellectual honesty, a measure of some sort of political integrity.
If it is that, rather than just another ill-judged comment, then it is OK for him, but not for the voters of North East Somerset, and not, one would hope, for Boris Johnson, who should waste no time in moving his fellow Old Etonian to somewhere he can do less political damage to his party and not needlessly make people upset. Ideally, the prime minister should remove him from his duties immediately, but seeing as the present Commons only has a matter of hours left in it, during which Rees-Mogg will still be leading it, maybe we can wait until Johnson wins, or loses, the election for an overdue reshuffle of his increasingly strange front bench team.
Quite apart from the image problem, Rees-Mogg has been a disastrous leader of the house, and done as much as anyone to bring about the low esteem in which the MPs hold the government, and vice versa. Rather than some sort of bridge between the legislature and the executive, Rees-Mogg has shown complete disrespect for the chamber, as when he languished, near horizontal, on the Commons benches during a vital debate, and when he asked the Queen, unlawfully as it turned out, to prorogue parliament.
So far from being some sort of ornament to our public life, Rees-Mogg is revealing himself to be a thoroughly obnoxious, spoiled, arrogant Tory of a type we’ve not seen since before the Second World War. His views, in other words, match his outfits – straight from the Hungry Thirties. His time has passed.
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