Beneath the mask, Jacob Rees-Mogg is a dangerous and deceitful bully on secondment from the 18th century

It’s 20 years since he first tried to emulate his late father-in-law, Somerset de Chair (no, really) by becoming a Conservative MP, touring the council estates of Fife in the Bentley with nanny in tow – yet he’s now the bookies’ favourite for next PM

Matthew Norman
Sunday 04 February 2018 17:41 GMT
Jacob Rees-Mogg is the most eccentric member of the ‘dream team’ of Brexiteers putting pressure on May
Jacob Rees-Mogg is the most eccentric member of the ‘dream team’ of Brexiteers putting pressure on May (Getty)

Was there ever a more exquisitely polite thug than Jacob Rees-Mogg?

On indefinite secondment from the mid-18th century, the Honourable Member for the East India Company has finally offered a flash of the real Moggy behind the mask. Hidden until now beneath the Savile Row three-piece and floridly courteous facade lies a deceitful bully with a taste for attacking those more honest than himself.

In the week the early Trump supporter’s role model granted Republican sycophants day release from his colon to smear the FBI, Moggy took a gigantic leaf from the President’s most malevolent playbook.

His Commons accusation of an anti-Brexit conspiracy, involving a respected think tank and the Treasury officials responsible for those dismal economic impact assessments, was one thing. It wasn’t a pretty thing, since it seemed a pre-prepared routine with Brexit minister Steve Baker. But we all make mistakes, and Baker was quick and almost gracious in apologising for wrongly confirming a falsehood.

Moggy favoured the Trumpian path, as previously colonised by Boris Johnson over that mythical £350m per week for the NHS. After the lie had been rigorously debunked, he aggressively doubled down on it.

He is not, in IQ terms, stupid. He may, again like Boris, be one of those clever fools who seem to pepper British public life, the spiritual children of Enoch Powell with pure intellects in inverse proportion to their common sense. But he has more than enough mental capacity to appreciate that any allegation denied by the political ally who originally confirmed it must be false.

In this context, he would repeat it only if he calculated that the personal benefit outweighs any contamination of his USP as a paradigm of civility and reasonableness in a rude and shouty world.

For all the pretence to altruistic patriotism, in other words, this is just another attention-craving mega-narcissist. It’s me-me-me with him – or, as the French tauntingly chant at him when he takes the vintage Bentley to Normandy, “Moggy, Moggy, Moggy, moi, moi, moi!” He would very much like to be PM, and reckons that any ingratiation with Brexit ultras, even at a cost to his wider reputation, will help.

Jacob Rees-Mogg claims civil servants are 'fiddling figures' on Brexit

To me, as perhaps to you, the only credible source of the vision of Moggy waving from outside No 10 is a powerful hallucinogen. But we have been trapped in history’s worst acid trip ever since the referendum, and the only rule of thumb left is that the craziest thing imaginable has to be the bookies’ favourite.

That Moggy remains 5-1 favourite to replace Theresa May is more because than in spite of his exposure as a recidivist fibber. The dwindling band of old, white, rural, mostly male party members who pick Tory leaders is cocooned within the demented fantasy bubble of a post-Brexit imperial renaissance. No one – not Michael Gove or even Boris – is as expert at locating their G-spot.

Whether his fellow MPs would put him in the final two from whom the members choose is another matter. One, Heidi Allen, promises to leave the party if he wins. If others feel the same, they have more to fret over than his lack of any ministerial experience. Given the Brexit cluelessness of the vastly experienced, you can’t conceive how a nine-year-old on Ritalin could do worse.

More worrying to any MP with a small majority is what the Americans call relatability. There can’t be more than a few dozen citizens (or subjects, as he’d prefer it) who can relate to someone who assured a local TV reporter that “if you go round Somerset, I think you’d find most people speak the Queen’s English”, the first use of the phrase without ironic intent since 1964.

However many Tory MPs regard Moggy as their salvation, there must be triple that number on the Labour benches. For every voter who believes a man’s sole duty during childbirth is to calm himself with a large Scotch down the pub, 1,000 will be perplexed by a father of six proudly admitting he has never changed a nappy because he’d do it wrong. In his defence, it’s true that replacing a Pamper is a more challenging test of competence than safely steering the UK out of the EU.

It’s 20 years since he first tried to emulate his late father-in-law, Somerset de Chair (no, really) by becoming a Conservative MP, touring the council estates of Fife in the Bentley with nanny in tow. In that time he has done nothing to nudge the persona towards the contemporary.

To what extent it is wholly authentic or one of those self-parodies that eventually become the reality is irrelevant. If the facade has deflected attention from opinions that cross the borderline from the archaic into the alarming – strict adherence to Vatican objections to gay marriage and abortion after rape; opposing David Cameron’s plan for more ethnic minority candidates on the grounds that “95 per cent of this country is white” – the time for that has passed.

There must always be room in political life for the wilfully eccentric and even faux-eccentric. But that room needs to be heavily padded.

The idea of it being the Cabinet room at Downing Street, whether as PM or as Chancellor in the hard Brexit “dream team” of Johnson, Gove and Rees-Mogg touted in today’s Sunday Times… Oh my Great Aunt Ada, what in the name of sanity have we become?

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