Enthusiasm for Brexit among politicians in Westminster is a bit “low-energy” at the moment. Theresa May is soldiering on after a very underwhelming general election performance that saw her reduced to leading a minority government supported by the DUP. Fallen in strength in a remarkably short period, she is now reduced to asking other parties to contribute to shaping Brexit. Though an untrue statement about the vast majority of Brexiteers, Alastair Campbell’s tweet stating “anyone else noticed how Brextremists [sic] have stopped saying Brexit will be good for Britain, just that it has to happen cos of 23/6/16 vote” does have a sliver of truth to it in regards to the Prime Minister and much of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. Brexit can’t happen by just a grudging acceptance by the population and the government, it must be embraced for the tremendous opportunity it is!
Theresa May does sadly appear to be, as George Osborne vindictively said, a dead woman walking politically. Though she has committed to Brexit brilliantly in the Lancaster House speech and in her appointment to top roles of the “three Brexiteers”, a vision-less campaign and near defeat has made her position untenable. Having ditched most of her manifesto (as well as traditional Conservative policy positions whether from Thatcher or Cameron) her leadership is “just about managing” and clearly not inspiring the general public or Conservative party faithful. Therefore, a new leader, whether in the next couple months or up until 2019, will be needed to right the Conservative party ship and lead Brexit Britain.
There have been many names of people thrown about as possible successors to Theresa May. One suggestion has been Boris Johnson. I have previously written in praise of Boris as a future PM due to his Churchillian qualities, but he may be politically “damaged goods” at the moment. Another name often mentioned is David Davis. Mr. Davis would likely be a steady hand and a compromise candidate between the ideological and moderate wings of the party (though he probably would not satisfy the Communist member for South Cambridgeshire Heidi Allen), but as Paul Goodman at Conservative Home has written, Davis is very old and has certain weaknesses that kept him from winning in 2005. The biggest problem with Davis I see however, is that he is unlikely to inspire the nation to love Brexit and/or Conservatism (though he would certainly be an improvement on May) and he would likely be a caretaker until a next generation of leaders takes over the party. The question remains then, is such a bridge necessary? Could not one argue that May herself is the bridge?
Though I abhor the so-called “cult of youth” that has often dominated politics (and that Trump, Corbyn, and Sanders have largely obliterated) there is something to be said for a young leader who can pursue a vision of the party and lead it for a long time. Look at Cameron, Blair, and Thatcher- all took over under the age of 50, built a party around their world-view, led the party for over a decade, and dramatically improved the electoral position of their party. I see many potential great leaders in the 2010 and 2015 intake. I specifically am very impressed by the brilliance and ideological clarity of James Cleverly, Suella Fernandes, Dominic Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng, and to a lesser extent Priti Patel. However, there is one of that group that is taking the nation by storm- Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The internet, the Tory grassroots, and many young people are in the thrall of the person Ruth Davidson called the “member for the nineteenth century“. So called “#Moggmentum” has led to Jacob Rees-Mogg having over 33,000 followers on Instagram (twice as many as the Prime Minister), over 15,000 signatures for him to become Prime Minister, over 18,000 followers for a Twitter account that is not actually him and hundreds of thousands of YouTube views for clips of him speaking. Betting odds continue to point to there being a strong possibility of him becoming Prime Minister and many unscientific polls show him being a favourite among the grass roots- he is fast becoming the Corbyn of the Conservative Party.
Like Corbyn, Rees-Mogg is the opposite to the political culture of the Alastair Campbell era of spin mistake-free polish. Like Corbyn, Rees-Mogg is polite to others and yet steadfast in his beliefs. Today’s culture, especially the young, are crying out for authenticity, passion, and a commitment to a cause than their own power. However, unlike Corbyn, who is dangerous and not well-educated, Mr. Rees-Mogg is incredibly and devastatingly articulate and intelligent. He is unabashedly British, patrician with old-fashioned values and mannerisms, and Eton and Oxford educated with a world class knowledge of history, the classics, and famously, the English language. His rise in popularity signals that old-fashioned (and I mean pre-Stanley Baldwin as the Daily Mash reminded us) Toryism can strike a chord with people who have only heard of it while watching Downton Abbey. Mr. Rees-Mogg’s rise signals the return of ideology on the traditional right.
Mr. Rees-Mogg’s critics, whether Tory or not, however will retort that Jacob Rees-Mogg cannot be considered a party leader because he is too Conservative, too posh, and too, well, nineteenth century. Fair enough, if one thinks the nineteenth-century abominable. But what if an injection of a little nineteenth-century is just what twenty-first century Brexit Britain needs?
In an excellent piece in The Spectator, Cambridge Professor Robert Tombs points out that Britain isn’t in fact declining, it’s actually doing quite well, it’s just that people think it is decline. Undoubtedly, part of the reason people think the country is in decline is rampant dissatisfaction with its leaders- most of whom show little or no grand vision for the country. However, it was not always this way. Though there is undoubtedly much to criticise about the nineteenth century (as there is every era) the nineteenth century produced great leaders who inspired Britain to do great things. Some of the most remarkable advances in British history occurred during the nineteenth century. The British of the nineteenth century were the first to abolish slavery and the slave trade and sent the Royal Navy around the world to stamp it out. The British of the nineteenth century emancipated Catholics, the religion of Jacob Rees-Mogg, to practice freely after centuries of unfair treatment. The British of the nineteenth century expanded the franchise from a very select group of wealthy landowners to virtually all men. The British of the nineteenth century brought the social conscience literature of Dickens and the liberal philosophy of John Stuart Mill. The British of the nineteenth century introduced global unilateral free trade and changed the empire from a series of exploitative money making projects to a civilisational project that cost more money than it brought in. The British of the nineteenth century abolished child labour and introduced compulsory schooling. The British of the nineteenth century elected a Jewish Prime Minister and elected for the first time a non-white MP. The British of the nineteenth century created some of the world’s greatest inventions and industries and spread parliamentary democracy to much of the world. There great leaders, from William Pitt to Earl Gray to Robert Peel to Gladstone and Disraeli to Queen Victoria, though not perfect people, helped support the great spirit of the age of Pax Britannia with dynamic vision and inspirational leadership. Surely this type of nineteenth century leadership could be useful today?
There are three key areas where twenty-first century Brexit Britain requires inspiring vision: (1) in engaging with the world outside Europe, (2) in building homes and a property owning democracy and (3) restoring knowledge of British history, traditions and patriotism, among the general population, but especially the young. I believe Mr. Rees-Mogg is the best leader at this moment for dealing with all three issues.
Mr. Rees-Mogg, unlike Theresa May, is a life-long keen Brexiteer. He fought for the cause during the referendum and continues to be one of Brexit’s most articulate spokespeople. However, unlike some of the other well-intentioned but less economically literate Brexiteers, Mr. Rees-Mogg knows economics inside and out, having made his fortune working in investments in emerging markets. Mr. Rees-Mogg knows how important emerging markets are to Britain, for trade and prosperity, and was not straight jacketed by the euro-centric group think of the now discredited project fear fronted by George Osborne’s treasury and Mark Carney’s Bank of England. In fact, his dismantling of Mr. Carney’s arguments was so complete that even the left-leaning and Remain-backing Independent declared that Mr. Rees-Mogg gave Mr. Carney “the politest of beatings.” Mr. Rees-Mogg’s knowledge of global finance would work well for Britain when navigating in a world of making new trade deals.
On home building, Mr. Rees-Mogg has a vision for home building that is exactly what the United Kingdom needs for its current housing crisis. His speech on the issue, which went viral and has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube, calls for building homes that people can own and buy and he correctly points out that tower blocks are a product in social engineering that the people did not and do not want. He calls for a “nation of homeowners” and attacks bureaucracy directing home building. This audacity on home building is what Britain needs in an era where young people are finding it hard to get on the housing ladder. His understanding that a home-owning democracy is key to prosperity (and Conservative electoral fortunes) is the clarity Britain needs in a leader- not one that upholds the arcane and outdated planning system that Britain has currently.
Finally, Jacob Rees-Mogg is regarded as a first-class parliamentarian and historian. In 2015 Mr. Rees-Mogg was given the honour of giving the speech on the Speaker, in which he explained the history of the importance of the speaker position. In his speeches, he very often quotes from extensive parliamentary history, but also in his excellent speeches he explains why knowledge of British history is important- such as this example from this brilliant speech in Parliament. And while knowing history for its own sake is useful, part and parcel of being patriotic is knowing a nation’s history. Take for example young people in the UK, who so overwhelmingly voted for Remain and for a socialist in Corbyn. Only 15% of those 18-24 consider themselves very patriotic and 16% considered themselves not patriotic at all- compared to older people in that same YouGov poll being overwhelmingly patriotic. Young people not only lack basic knowledge of British history, but according to YouGov know very little about even their own family ancestors. It is not a coincidence that young people who don’t know history are not patriotic and are willing to try historically discredited systems like socialism- if you have never heard that Britain is a great country or that free markets are good one is likely to believe the opposite. However, if the country has a Prime Minister that invokes history often, understands the importance of a rigorous history curriculum in schools and especially one that is popular among young people, the country’s culture could become more patriotic, positive, and united.
Last year, I wrote that Brexit could be the first step in “taking back control”, but that the next fight was to take back control in the Conservative Party, the educational system, and the culture. I am coming around to believing that a Jacob Rees-Mogg premiership could be an integral part to achieving those goals. The nation needs an inspiring leader to boost its confidence and lead it into the twenty-first century. Jacob Rees-Mogg could be that leader. Cometh the hour cometh the man- your country needs you Mr. Rees-Mogg.