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Who is UK’s Conservative hopeful Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Conservative member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg stands outside Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor's funeral at Westminster Cathedral, London.

Conservative member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg stands outside Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor's funeral at Westminster Cathedral, London.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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Last week, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a bespectacled grey-haired parliamentarian with a cut-glass accent, appeared on a popular morning television programme to expound his views, which included opposing same sex marriage and abortion under absolutely any circumstances (including rape). It was far from the first time that Catholic Rees-Mogg had expressed strongly conservative views. Nevertheless, his comments touched a nerve nationally, coming as a poll by Conservative Home put him as the party members’ favourite to become their next leader.

With 22% of the vote, it put him comfortably ahead of David Davis, the Minister in charge of Brexit, and Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, who had till recently been the party’s favoured eccentric.

What is his pull?

After the June election smashed the Conservative’s comfortable majority, weakening Prime Minister Theresa May, the unofficial battle to take over as leader commenced swiftly, taking an unexpected turn amid disillusionment with party stalwarts, especially among young Conservatives. The ultra-proper 48-year-old Mr. Rees-Mogg, rarely seen out of a double breasted suit and tie and carefully combed hair, has been a member of Parliament since 2010, as a vocal backbencher, regularly voting against his party’s official line when it diverged from his own conservative politics.

Has the ‘outsider’ tag helped?

Though his origins are hardly unusual for a Conservative politician — he is the son of a wealthy, former editor of The Times, educated at Eton and Oxford, with a career in finance — he has managed to build a significant following within the party, particularly among those on the right who want it to remain firmly socially and politically conservative. To them, Mr. Rees-Mogg has been just the ticket: in addition to opposing anything around the smoking ban or equal gay rights, he has stood against measures to promote equality and human rights and environmental and safety protections. Regulations that were “good enough for India” could be good enough for Britain, Mr. Rees-Mogg, an ardent Brexiteer, said earlier this year. In a discussion about trade deals with other countries following Brexit, he said: “We could, if we wanted, accept emissions from India, America and Europe. There would be no contradiction with that.” Even his personal life seems to fit: he has six children (the most recent one, Sixtus, was born earlier this year) and has admitted to never ever having changed a nappy. “I have made no pretence to be a modern man at all, ever,” he told Nigel Farage on a radio show recently.

Who are his backers?

His politics has won him gushing support from alt-right media such as Breitbart, which has compared him to Churchill and applauded his “Christian beliefs, conservative values and Euroscepticism.” In June, the MoggMentum campaign, touting him as the answer to the Conservative’s leadership crisis, was launched by young Conservatives. The name is a nod to Momentum, the left-wing grassroots movement that helped Jeremy Corbyn win the Labour leadership election. Over 26,000 people have signed a petition supporting him. One particularly enthusiastic young supporter even had MoggMentum tattooed on his chest.

Even critics admit to admiring aspects, such as his flair for elocution: he is known in the Commons for being a particularly good orator, adept at filibustering legislation he disagrees with (in one instance, he talked out a bill through a lengthy speech which included discussing P.G. Woodhouse’s pig the Empress of Blandings). During a debate in 2012, he set the House of Commons record by using the longest word ever used in the House, floccinaucinihilipilification, which means the act of estimating something as worthless. “I could sit and listen to him all day, I disagree with him 99.9% of the time,” one Scottish National Party MP recently told The Guardian.

So could he become PM?

While centrists and those on the left fear that Mr. Rees-Mogg is symptomatic of the rightward shift of the Conservative base, whether his popularity translates into anything in government remains to be seen. He himself has pointed out that no one has ever made it directly from the backbenches to leading the party of government, though tellingly he has so far refused to rule out taking the baton should he ever be offered it.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 12:37:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/who-is-uks-conservative-hopeful-jacob-rees-mogg/article19699711.ece

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