The Archbishop of Brexit is edging closer towards the leadership of a country which is—unexpectedly, bizarrely but unmistakably—within his graspby Sonia Purnell / April 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Like all winning populist politicians, from Donald Trump to Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg is a carefully created persona, a semi-permanent work of performance art. His words and deeds are calibrated to perfect that seemingly-spontaneous air that today qualifies an “authentic” figure, who lies outside a despised and discredited mainstream. Anything likely to impinge on the persona must be ruthlessly avoided or abandoned.
It must have been for this reason that the 48-year-old Rees-Mogg, Tory MP for North-East Somerset since 2010, declined to join a fish-flinging escapade on a boat outside parliament in March, in protest at the government agreeing to observe European Union fishing regulations during the Brexit transition. It was not the sentiment he disagreed with—he too believes the UK’s concession betrayed our coastal communities. It is just that the protest didn’t fit his image.
Of course Nigel Farage was on board the plucky red fishing boat, chucking haddock, skate and bass into the swirling waters of the River Thames for the cameras. The stunt worked perfectly for his unruly persona. But Farage’s race is run, and his chances of statesmanship pretty much nil.
Rees-Mogg plays a different part, sensing a grander future. He was, he declared in his curvaceous vowels, “not a fish thrower” nor about to change his name to “Captain Haddock.” Such theatrics would not fit his brand of calm and courteous pronouncements delivered in stiff collars and double-breasted suits. Instead, from the solid footing of the Embankment, he piggy-backed on the publicity generated by Farage, whom he has succeeded as the Leaver Nation’s darling. There he stood, delivering his courtly analysis on all matters fishy, following up with a pun-filled tweet, which garnered thousands of likes. Thus it was that his management of this stunt edged Rees-Mogg another step closer towards the leadership of a party and country which is—unexpectedly, bizarrely but unmistakably—suddenly within his grasp.
It is less than two years since the “peasants’ revolt” of the Brexit vote did for Britain’s 19th Etonian prime minister, but the bookies now tell us that the most likely next occupant of No 10 would be the 20th. (As I write, Rees-Mogg is 4/1 as the next PM with Ladbrokes, which puts him not only ahead of the rest of the Tory field, but of the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn). There are clearly differences between David Cameron and Rees-Mogg, but these run in the opposite direction from what you might expect from a disgruntled country that wanted to give its establishment a kicking.