I think we all breathed a bit of a sigh of relief at the arrival of the summer recess. After the relentless churn of the UK political seas in the eye of the General Election storm, the domestic doldrums of August were reassuringly calm…
Well, Summer’s over and, as MPs return to Parliament this week, hurricane season is once more upon us. Looming large is the surge of Hurricane Brexit, while Hurricane (Conservative) Leadership Challenge continues to brood on the horizon.
The good ship Tory is not a happy one at the moment and despite the best efforts of the present captain to reassure the crew that she is in control, the mutineers continue to plot. As one former Downing Street adviser said, ‘plotting is crack cocaine to the Conservative Party’. Of course all eyes are on the usual suspects but political insiders will know that the real challenger can often rise from below decks.
So it is that the name of Jacob Rees-Mogg has become an increasing murmur on the lips of those pushing for leadership change. Over the summer he has come to adopt the unlikely swagger of a swashbuckling Brexiteer whose jib is cut to the liking of a swathe of the party longing for a new Britain in the mould of a glorious old.
On the surface, JRM is an unlikely candidate. The Eton educated MP for North east Somerset is as posh as they come and with bow tie and specs bears more than a passing resemblance to Dennis the Menace’s nemesis, Walter Brown from the Beano. A staunch Catholic, committed family man and father of six, he espouses values that certainly seem to come from another age (as one Twitter user has crooned ‘Reassuringly 1870s’).
His unashamedly anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion beliefs, as reinforced on yesterday’s Good Morning Britain, would appear to be out of step with the modern world. However, his hard line Brexit stance and willingness to bat so eagerly for the side in public has won him much good faith and support from Leavers. An appearance on BBC’s Question Time in July particularly elevated him to a champion’s role as he dispatched a Remainer heavy panel with salvos that were greeted with rounds of rapturous applause from the audience (the exuberance even appearing to surprise JRM himself).
There is no question that the MP exercises confidence, intelligence and a sharp wit. It is an effective defence against a privileged background and character traits that make him appear to be a soft target, but detractors underestimate him at their peril. At times he looks like a boxer about to flounder on the ropes before coming back with a witty sucker punch to floor his opponent.
This makes him a colourful character but, unlike Boris Johnson, there is more depth to his tone. Therefore his Good Morning grilling will probably not significantly impact on his standing as a dark horse contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party in the way that Boris’s terminal foot-in-mouth disease has undermined his own chances. JRM’s views are his own – his voting patterns in parliament back this up – and there are many in the grass roots Tory party who will share them (posing less of a PR problem than Tim Farron’s views as leader of a party representing liberal values).
In the social media age, the qualities discussed have led to JRM’s seemingly improbable rise in popularity. With just 28 tweets to his name he has nigh on 60k followers, while his Best of Jacob ReesMogg (sic) compilation on Youtube has been watched over 306,000 times.
Mr Rees-Mogg may not have declared an interest in becoming leader… but he has not ruled it out either. Time, and the stormy waters to come, will tell if he will join the race to be the first to hoist the Jolly Roger or be made to walk the plank if Captain May’s good ship Tory reaches safe harbour…
Luan de Burgh
Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.