Mike over at Vox Political has posted a piece criticising the views and career to date of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP for part of BANES in Somerset. His constituency includes Bath, and, I think, part of Keynsham, a small town between there and Bristol.
Rees-Mogg is one of the new bugs, who came in with Cameron. Private Eye covered him in their ‘The New Boys’ on-off column. He’s a tall man, with impeccable patrician manners and the same air of condescension towards the lower orders. Which is just about everyone else. Mike cites a description of him as ‘the minister for the early 20th century’. It’s entirely apt. He cuts a strangely Edwardian figure, as if someone from the first few decades of the last century somehow fell through time to emerge nearly a century later, to be bemused by the strange technological devices, manners and ever-so-slightly vulgar social conventions.
He began his political career charging about Scotland, campaigning for the Tories in a Scots mining town. He announced that his platform was to convince the Scots that they vitally needed an unelected, aristocratic Second House. Clearly, his constituents and just about the rest of the country north of the border decided that they didn’t. No doubt he encountered some extremely forthright views while canvassing them.
He has gone to Glyndebourne, the great operatic festival in Kent. While there one sunny day, he got his wife and nanny to stop him getting sunburn by holding a book over his head. I’m as surprised that he actually wasn’t embarrassed to mention this as I am that he actually did it in the first place.
Rather more seriously, the extremity of his right-wing views are shown by his membership of the Traditional Britain group. This is another bunch of rightists, who stand for the restoration of the traditional feudal hierarchy, the absolute destruction of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS, and absolutely no immigrants. And particularly not Muslims. They were last seen a few years ago on the fringes of UKIP’s annual conference. You also see them posting on the anti-Islam, ‘counter-jihadist’ site.
Young Jacob is the son of William Rees-Mogg, a former columnist for the Independent and then subsequently the Times. In 1992 Rees-Mogg pere published his magnificent octopus, Picnics on Vesuvius: Steps Towards the Millennium. It was then reviewed and suitably done over by Private Eye in their literary column. Here it is:
Just before Christmas, William Rees-Mogg wrote his last column for the Independent. Some bolshie sub gave it the derisive headline: ‘Is this the end of life as I know it?’ Henceforth his compositions will be appearing in the Times.
Senior staff at the Independent are heartbroken. From the launch of the paper, they have found him such a dependable guide to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. All you need to do, they discovered, is read Rees-Mogg’s columns carefully and then believe exactly the opposite. It never failed, they say tearfully. Now they don’t know what to think.
At least Rees-Mogg has left behind this treasury of past triumphs, so we can look back and admire the almost supernatural accuracy of his forecasting. On 22nd January 1992, for example, looking into Fergie’s tea leaves, Rees-Mogg wrote: ‘Nor do I believe for a moment that the duchess’s antics, innocent as they seem to be, are doing any damage to the monarchy. the question of the future of the crown is a non-question; it is all got up by the press.’ Put a few ‘nots’ in there, in the right places, and this was an almost uncannily far-sighted assessment.
Or again on 11 march 1991, when base rates were 13 per cent, Rees-Mogg warned ‘any further reduction in interest rates is likely to restart a major house boom’. Indeed! Or rather – not! For those lucky few sharing the secret of how to interpret Rees-Mogg, this was priceless information.
No less inspired was his evaluation of Robert Maxwell on 11 November 1991, concluding: ‘I am glad he was buried yesterday on the Mount of Olives, which is a place of grace. I shall remember him with affection …’ To the initiated, there could hardly have been a more savage condemnation.
Yet is not just for his power of prediction that we must revere Rees-Mogg. Rather, it is for the sheer grandeur of his style, the way he sweeps so impressively from the tiniest detail of his own life to the great questions of history, with scarcely a pause – in fact, let’s admit, with never a pause – between.
Who else would are begin an article (‘Landmarks in a Life Which Has Seen the Shadow of War Lifted’) like this: ‘On my tenth birthday, 14 July 1938, I was given an ice-cream cake with a cricket-bat and ball on top; it was big enough to be shared with the 30 boys in the my house at school. Four months before, Hitler had invaded Austria … Two months after my birthday, Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich’?
At the time, Rees-Mogg was probably alone in realizing which was the critical date of the three. Now we are all privileged to share that thrilling perspective – and there are many such moments here.
Truly, he is a man of destiny. ‘Destiny has a way of making itself,’ he says here in passing of his own marriage. She may have been his secretary, but it was meant.
It is this sublime confidence in himself, as a Mogg and a Wessex man, that permits him to take such long views, not just from year to year, but from century to century, millennium to millennium, into eternity indeed. For Rees-Mogg, it just all joins up.
So what does the great seer foresee? Good news! He foresees dooooom.
Yup, things are going to be OK! Who would have thought it?
According to Rees-Mogg, the world is facing imminent economic and social collapse, what with the slitty eyes beavering away, mugging getting out of hand, overpopulation, nuclear proliferation, Aids and all.
On Aids, says Rees-Mogg with a touch of justifiable pride, he has done ‘special work’. There’s a whole section about it here, and his conclusion is, as ever, that only religion can save us: ‘Christian morality is a strategy for survival’, you see. Condoms are useless. ‘The “unzip a condom” approach to the HIV epidemic reminds me of the filter-tip response to the issue of cigarette smoking and cancer,’ he says scornfully.
There may be those who will say that this remark shows that Rees-Mogg, for his wisdom, is a little out of touch with modern life. After all, they might observe, most condoms these days use the more comfortable button-fastening; zips are hardly ever seen.
But this is petty quibbling. Of the basic truth, that only becoming a Catholic right away can avert the end of the world, there can be no doubt. The millennium is coming, you see. ‘By the year 2000’ is Rees-Mogg’s favourite way of beginning a sentence. ‘As we approach 2000 years after Christ, this ancient human fear of some final calamity is not as unthinkable as it would have seemed 50 years ago,’ he says.
Only a ‘worldwide spiritual revolution’ can help. Only the Pope can resist Islam. Only saints, and sages from Somerset, can lead us now.
Travelling the country, he met some black people once. ‘I was particularly touched by the young black boy, with the scars of handcuffs on his wrists, who said to me: “It6 must be grand to be a lord.”‘
What he seems not to realize is that we all feel like this about him. Our gratitude is bottomless. For as he says, ‘saints are so important in the spread of religious belief. They profess their faith, but their conduct is the real evidence of its truth.’ Yes, indeed.
‘I am certain that we are all eternal spirits, with an eternal purpose, ‘Rees-Mogg tells us. ‘We are all like eggshells filled with spiritual realities we cannot begin to understand, filled indeed with the whole glory of Heaven.’
Some of us hardboiled, some soft, other poached, and a few are scrambled, but we all can, if we choose, entere the new year and eventually the next millennium, hand in hand with Lord Rees-Mogg.
From: Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, ed. and introduced by Francis Wheen (London: Verso 1994) 293-4.
I don’t share the writer’s hostility to religion, or their apparent hostility to Roman Catholicism, although that may just be an entirely suitable comment on Rees-Mogg’s own, rather sectarian religious beliefs, which clearly discount anyone else’s who isn’t a Roman Catholic. It does, however, show the lofty patricians tone Rees-Mogg’s views, and explains why Rees-Mogg junior is the way he is.
And with any luck, Rees-Mogg fils will be another Tory looking for a job after May 7th.