By Paul Goodman
This site’s latest monthly survey is pure journalistic viagra. On Wednesday, we reported that Jacob Rees-Mogg had come second, in effect, in our next Tory leader monthly question. The next day, the story was followed up elsewhere. On Saturday, Matthew Parris warned against a Rees-Mogg candidacy. And today, we learn that the man himself has not ruled one out. On the record, he is as charmingly self-deprecating as ever in a Sunday Times interview: ‘I think if I threw my hat in the ring, my hat would be thrown back at me pretty quickly,’ he says. Off the record, the paper reports that he is “sounding out” friends about a bid.
Frustration with the election result, exasperation with the present generation of Tory leaders, and admiration for “honest politics” help to explain the Rees-Mogg phemomenon. We do not believe that most voters would either get the joke (that’s to say, the Somerset MP’s artful sending up of himself) or take him seriously (Rees Mogg has a mind as sharp as the stripes on his shirt). David Cameron won the Tory leadership after only four years in the Commons, but he had written a Party manifesto and served in the Shadow Cabinet. We suspect that talk of a Rees-Mogg candidacy is summer lightning.
None the less, we could be wrong. In a country that gave Cameron a majority, voted Leave and handed Jeremy Corbyn 40 per cent of the vote, one should be ready for the unexpected. Furthermore, Rees Mogg is a surprisingly accomplished politician, at least to those who don’t know him. Beyond tales of the nanny and beneath his double-breasted suit is a man who thinks clearly, speaks English, and combines unyielding principles, shameless self-promotion, and a certain cunning. But could he really win a ballot of party members – let alone one of his Parliamentary colleagues, some of whom would see him as a factional candidate?
It may all never happen and we think it shouldn’t. But we first argued in 2013 that Rees-Mogg should be on the front bench, since he had more ability than some who sat on it then (and do now). “If the Conservatives are frightened to make [him] a Minister,” we wrote, “they don’t deserve to survive”. It may even have crossed the mind of Gavin Williamson that making the Somerset MP, say, Number Two at Transport would both test his Ministerial abilities and shut him up – on subjects outside his brief, that is. Perhaps Rees-Mogg would smell a rat if made any such offer. Maybe he would do best simply to keep calm and carry on, since doing so is doing him no harm at all.