He's a surprisingly good prospect for a party nostalgic for the Empire.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Jonathan Brady/PA Archive/PA Images)
We all know Theresa May is on her way out. Following the Tories' disastrous setback in the recent election, our alleged Prime Minister was lobotomised by having her key aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill forcibly removed. There is good reason to believe her party is only continuing to prop her up, Weekend at Bernies-style, in a bid to see Brexit out without a civil war.
But who is likely to replace her as Tory leader? All the big beasts in her cabinet are damaged, compromised, or just simply devoid of any personal appeal. And the ideological wing of the party most opposed to May's premiership is led by George Osborne, who despite his 20,000 other jobs is no longer a sitting MP.
Recently however, a surprise candidate from the backbenches has emerged, boosted in particular by figures on the party's hard right and the beneficiary of fawning media write-ups: the honourable member for North East Somerset, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
You must all know who Jacob Rees-Mogg is. He's the utterly bizarre Tory MP who both looks and acts like he's escaped into this dimension from a P.G. Wodehouse novel, whose pet issues include things like "council officials should wear bowler hats" and "guitars should be banned from Catholic mass". The one whose children are named things like "Tom Wentworth Somerset Dunstan" and "Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher", and whose wife's name is "Helena de Chair". The Old Etonian apparently notorious at Oxford for insisting on wearing his mortar board when cycling to college, and who once canvassed the safe Labour seat of Central Fife with his nanny.
In truth, Jacob Rees-Mogg has always been a bit of a joke. But his views aren't. Just as with Boris Johnson, who if anything Rees-Mogg resembles a more extreme version of, his fuddy-duddy exterior conceals a frothingly regressive right-wing ideologue. Rees-Mogg lives in rural Somerset, and is the heir to inherited wealth – but he's not just some good-natured aristocrat, out of touch with the cruel, cold 21st century us proles are forced to toil in. By profession, Rees-Mogg is a fund manager. In 2014, Rees-Mogg was reported to the Parliamentary standards committee after he spoke in four debates in support of the tobacco, mining and oil and gas industries without declaring that his City firm had interests in sectors such as tobacco, mining and oil and gas. Indeed, Rees-Mogg was something of a capitalist child prodigy: he started investing in the stock market at age ten, was writing into the Financial Times and advising companies on takeovers by 12, and apparently made his first million before he started university.
A devout Catholic, Rees-Mogg is starkly opposed to same-sex marriage, and was once forced to resign from the board of a hospital he was running over issues surrounding access to abortion and gender reassignment surgery. An equally hardline Brexiteer, Rees-Mogg has a record of trying to court UKIP from the Tory backbenches, and he has historically been a keen supporter of Donald Trump. His record in parliament shows him voting consistently against minority and disability rights, and in favour of mass state surveillance and cutting benefits.
Neither is the suggestion that Rees-Mogg could become Prime Minister a laughable one. Okay, so I'll admit that initially when I heard that people were pushing for Rees-Mogg to run for the Tory leadership, I burst out laughing myself. But then again, when Jeremy Corbyn was running for Labour leader some Tories considered the notion so funny that they actively registered as supporters to vote for him, and look how that worked out. Rees-Mogg is seen as principled, he certainly has something like charisma, and an internet fandom has already developed around him amongst young Tories: a facebook page entitled "Middle-Class Memes for Rees-Moggian Teens", sharing Rees-Mogg based right-wing memes, already boasts over 30,000 followers.
Of course the Tories are never going to be able to generate anything analogous to Corbynmania among young people – with policies as detrimental to anyone under the age of 45 as theirs are, they're only ever going to attract the sort of young people whose deep-seated psychological lust for authority has crystalised into cruel political dogma. But a leader like Rees-Mogg could certainly fire up the Tory grass roots. And he even has the potential for a curious sort of mass appeal.
If anything motivates the Conservative party in 2017 – beyond, of course, the blind, joyless stupidity of wanting what's worst for everyone – it is nostalgia for the British Empire. This was always lurking behind the Brexit vote, and behind May's bullish rhetoric in the wake of it. "Global Britain" renewed, striding away confidently from Europe into the world to possess it like we once did, blue passports in hand. "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters and Union Jack bunting everywhere, tripe served by the pound just as Queen Victoria intended. The Civil Service even started disparaging the Tory Right's Brexit plans as "Empire 2.0".
Now, imagine that this is the Britain you want to live in. Who better to lead it, than a man who literally seems to embody all this imperialist nostalgia in his physical person? A man who seems to have opened a portal deep within himself to the early 20th century, and allowed it to consume him, taking over his manners, his clothes, his political ideals, everything. A man with all the patrician elegance and ruthless, profiteering thuggery of the Britons who in earlier times enslaved half the planet, destroying almost everything that couldn't be exploited for financial gain.
Imperialist nostalgia is deeply-rooted in the British psyche: in many ways, it has driven the aesthetics of the early 21st century. We see it everywhere, in places so innocuous it's barely noticed, from Marks and Spencer's packaging to The Great British Bake-Off. It is supposed to have a reassuring quality, looking back to a past where the world made sense in a way that ours does not; when Britain ran everything sensibly and fairly, for the benefit of all. This is of course a myth – when you compare it with the reality, an utterly disgraceful one. But in lieu of decent education about our colonialist past, it is a myth that has seeped in. Just consider how well imperialist nostalgia was working for the Tories, before May fluffed it in the general election by running a cringing, defensive campaign.
If Rees-Mogg can continue to hide the brutal reality of the imperialist nostalgia he embodies behind the twee and cosy aesthetics associated with this nostalgia as a cultural force, he could well prove the most dangerous of all the Tory leadership contenders.