Who is Jacob Rees-Mogg?

PUBLISHED: 12:01 09 February 2017

Rees-Mogg relaxes in the House of Commons

Rees-Mogg relaxes in the House of Commons

Archant

Britain loves a toff. But the media’s current favourite, Jacob Rees-Mogg, may not be as harmless as he seems

As a student I rented a flat from my old professor who was on sabbatical.

“Check my post from time to time,” he asked me, so I did, and one day noticed an envelope (postmarked Brussels), containing a contributors’ form for “Who’s Who in Europe”. I soon worked out that this prestigious-sounding (and expensive) tome was in fact a vanity publication, preying on the desire of naïve and gullible Britons to be taken seriously on the continent, during those early years of EEC membership.

When I phoned the professor, he said “throw it away,” but instead I seized the opportunity to create an absurd upper-class spoof character called Lord Rees-Bunce, and the published entry a few months later read: “Inventor of the nylon polyamide diaphragm. Education: Attended KY Jelly College, Oxblood. Occupation: Author, and Chairman of UK Rubbergoods. Published books: “Travels With A One-Fingered Gynaecologist”, “Ramming it Right Up – A Biography of the Pope”, “A Knee-Trembler With Mrs Thatcher”, “Christ! My Bag Just Burst”. Distinctions: Cycling Proficiency Test (failed). Clubs: Bay City Rollers Fan Club. Hobbies: Mugging people. By the 3rd Edition, Rees-Bunce had also authored “You Dozy Belgian Bastards Still Haven’t Sussed”, and to this day, a complimentary copy of “Who’s Who in Europe” sits on my library shelves, next to my well-thumbed Gibbons (they like it, you know, it’s not cruel).

Immediately below my fanciful Rees-Bunce entry was a genuine one for William Rees-Mogg, then the Editor of The Times, who was presumably vain and gullible enough to have fallen for an obvious scam.

In his day, William was universally regarded as a “young fogey”, and that accolade has since been passed down to his Tory politician son Jacob, who has (ironically) become in real life an even more ludicrous figure than my fictional creation ever could be.

Widely known as “The Honourable Member for the Early 20th Century”, Jacob revels in his own anachronism, permanently wearing a dull double-breasted suit, 1930s BBC announcer spectacles, and a constant look that is part-sneer-part-bafflement. He’s an Adam Adamant from the Edwardian era, who speaks as though he has marbles in his mouth (Elgin, that is), as he addresses 21st century issues from an early 20th century perspective. And so ubiquitous is he on TV, radio, and in newspapers, that his constituents in North-East Somerset must frequently be left wondering whether anybody is actually representing their interests in the House of Commons.

It’s easy to laugh at him (very easy actually). As a student at Trinity, he delighted in cycling around Oxford, sporting his mortar board. As a parliamentary candidate, he took his nanny canvassing with him, and proudly told journalists “she made me the man I am”. He’s the sort of bore that PG Wodehouse might have created as a minor character, a humourless dullard in the Drones club with inherited money and no flair, the very brand anthropomorphism of unearned upper-class privilege. He is, after all, said to be worth £150million.

In some respects, he’s very much like his fellow Eurosceptic Etonian and Oxonian Boris Johnson, although Rees-Mogg’s university club was the sober Canning, whereas Boris was in the loutish Bullingdon (as was David Dimbleby, although he likes to keep that very quiet). But we shouldn’t simply laugh at Jacob and Boris, because there’s an underlying nastiness there, which is typical of a large section of the modern Tory party. There was a time (under Heath, Thatcher and Major) when Tory toffs at least had the decency to downplay their unearned good fortune in the lottery of birth, and would attempt to disguise their distaste for common folk. But nowadays they display open contempt for the poor and disadvantaged, mocking them for their humble origins, as Rees-Mogg did when saying (on the record) that “John Prescott’s accent certainly stereotypes him as an oaf”.

Boris and his fellow Bullingdon boys, meanwhile, once behaved in ways that would have got them banged up if they’d hailed from a council estate but because they hailed from country estates, they learned early on that most laws only apply to oiks like us not to toffs like them.

Eccentricity is like catnip to television, and all it takes is a bowtie, a twirly moustache, a bouffant hairstyle, a monocle, or merely an upper-class accent to enable shameless privilege to pass itself off as harmless and even amusing oddity.

It’s what magicians call “misdirection of attention”, so while we’re mocking Boris’s benign buffoonery, he’s quietly sneaking a poisonous strain of nationalism and xenophobia into public discourse. Look beneath Jacob’s headmasterly sneer and foppish accent, and you’ll find some thoroughly disagreeable views.

His condemnation of same-sex marriages and a woman’s right to abortion, for example, or his support for zero hours contracts for working people. He was also enthusiastic in his statement that “I would almost certainly vote for Donald Trump if I was American”.

Rees-Mogg temporarily distanced himself a little from Trump and his self-made billions in the autumn, in the wake of the groping revelations. But oh my dears, one simply has to deal with tradesmen from time to time, and just two weeks ago he was banging the US drum again, telling us that “Trump is sympathetic to the UK. From a UK point of view, it’s good news,” and claiming that the US president’s victory and Brexit were both “a victory of the people against the Establishment”. His fawning position towards Trump is therefore pretty clear. But what, I wonder, will the President make of the likes of Rees-Mogg?

There’s a certain class of Englishmen (of which Rees-Mogg is a prime exemplar) who judge all others by the sound that comes out of their mouth, rather than the content of what they say. It’s a form of class hatred – a kind of racism against people who look just like you – and it’s why he ridiculed Prescott, and why he unfailingly plays up his own semi-aristocratic background.

In the US, by contrast, people are judged by their money and talents, not their accent, and Americans would simply smash through this particularly oppressive glass ceiling that keeps so many deferential Brits from ever achieving their full potential. Indeed, I’ve noticed lately that plenty of US talk show hosts, from the Libertarian Howard Stern to the ultra-right Michael Savage, are forthrightly contemptuous of snotty-nosed Brits like Rees-Mogg. So he and his ilk – who look to a closer relationship with the US as some compensation for the shambles of Brexit – should be very careful what they wish for. Americans may love our absurd aristos in TV period dramas - Downton Abbey, The Crown, The Halcyon – and they may love our anachronistic queens and princes too, and our half-timbered history, but they have no special love for real-life sneering toffs like Rees-Mogg.

Rees-Mogg is an Edwardian man who still seems to believe Harold Macmillan’s dictum about the US (first uttered in 1943), that “we are Greeks to their Romans”. But Britain couldn’t control America in Macmillan’s day (as we found out to our cost a few years later, over Suez), and we cannot control it now, because the relationship is not between two equals, but between a small country that continually boasts of a “special relationship,” and a large country that barely needs or notices that relationship at all.

Rees-Mogg’s patrician tones and classical references won’t work in Trump’s harsh business world, and we’ll soon find ourselves in the position of a small child in the back seat of the parental car, operating a toy steering wheel and always steering in the same direction as the real driver, just so we can pathetically pretend to ourselves that we still have some control over our own destiny.

Victor Lewis Smith is a television critic, producer and writer

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest Articles

Monday, October 23, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn has called the Prime Minister’s Brexit update “Groundhog Day” and warned her biggest battle is with the “warring” Tory factions rather than the EU.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Few footballing powers have fallen as far as the Dutch. NEIL JENSEN asks if there is any way out of the downward spiral

Monday, October 23, 2017

The killing of an investigative journalist reveals another side to Malta, says BRAD BLITZ. But her investigations spread beyond the island’s shores – and so do implications of her murder

Friday, October 20, 2017

US editor PAUL CONNEW on what the Weinstein revelations could mean for Donald Trump's beleaguered administration

Friday, October 20, 2017

Our editor-at-large on his new party piece: the speech the PM should have made to her party conference

Friday, October 20, 2017

The ‘missing billions’ are a red herring, says ANGELA JAMESON. There are bigger things to worry about

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Leave trajectory has run into the sand, says JANE MERRICK. Now it is not just a ‘no deal’ that is on the cards, it’s a ‘no Brexit’

Friday, October 20, 2017

The comedian, musician and writer on the disgraced Hollywood mogul

Friday, October 20, 2017

STEVE ANGLESEY rounds up the losers and losers (because there are no winners) of another crazy seven days on Planet Brexit

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Theresa May’s refusal to tell a radio phone-in show how she would vote in a new Brexit referendum was a new low for the Maybot. Her interrogator IAIN DALE recalls the moment he put the question to her, and his surprise at her failure to answer it

Thursday, October 19, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT on the week's big talking points

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why ‘no deal’ doesn’t work as a negotiating tactic, says JONATHAN POWELL – the man who helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Brexit, and a careless attitude towards British influence in NATO, will consign the country to the margins and weaken the cornerstone of our defence, argues GEORGE ROBERTSON, the former NATO Secretary General

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Ukip leader Henry Bolton named the party's new 'shadow cabinet' today - and what a bunch they are

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Catalonians against self-rule came out in their thousands the weekend before last.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It might seem quixotic, at a time when Spain looks like it is falling apart, but could the country’s future lie in a union with neighbour Portugal? DAVID BARKER investigates ‘Iberism’

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ALEXANDRA HADDOW on the Nordic trendsetters who have style sussed

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A second referendum that reverses Brexit would have a "positive" and "significant" impact on the UK economy, which is on track to be crippled by its EU divorce, an influential think tank claimed today.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Making money is no longer enough for firms, say ANGELA JAMESON

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The question, in a quiet voice, came from a woman in the audience at the Henley Festival’s Brexit debate, in a quiet voice: “So what do I tell my children now? They planned to live and work for a time in Europe. What now?”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Millions of families already struggling with soaring prices could end up being another £500 worse off if Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal, according to a report.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A day of action across the UK saw thousands of people take to the streets to demand Brexit is stopped.

Friday, October 13, 2017

People have been asking me if I know Simon Brodkin, the character-comedian/prankster who interrupted the Prime Minister’s conference speech to hand her a mock redundancy notice.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Angela Merkel’s power has taken a blow in the wake of the German election. Here Tony Paterson reports from Berlin on the new shape of German politics.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Roland Garros had every intention of pursuing a career as a concert pianist. An air show outside Reims during the late summer of 1909 changed all that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Chancellor has admitted no Brexit deal could leave planes grounded in March 2019.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Catalonian crisis has put Europe, as well as Spain, in jeopardy, says PAUL KNOTT.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It’s not a stretch to say that the economics of digital advertising are to blame for disasters like Brexit and Trump.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Boris Johnson is desperate to get into Number 10 – but it seems the Prime Minister has other ideas.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We’re living in the Age of Cool Dad, with politicians obsessed with burnishing their pop culture credentials, says SAMIRA AHMED.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Theresa May has claimed “the ball is in their court” in a statement to the House of Commons updating MPs on the Brexit negotiations. Brussels, however, disagree.

Monday, October 9, 2017

By attempting to quash the result before it was even known, Madrid has made the case for Catalan independence all but unanswerable.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Lawyers have told the Government that Article 50 is not binding and can be scrapped at any time before the March 2019 deadline, it has been claimed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The deluded fantasies of Leavers must have been inspired by the big screen says Have I Got News For You writer NATHANIEL TAPLEY. Here, he brings you the most Brexity films of all time.

Monday, October 9, 2017

France might be home of its most famous race, but Italy is the country with cycling in its DNA. To find out why, Patrick Sawer makes a tearful pilgrimage to its shrine to the sport.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Trieste, the city which has survived centuries of seductive illusions.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

As ambitions go, Lee Humphries’ is an unusual, if lofty, one – to ascend the highest points of 100 different countries. As he crests the halfway mark in his quest, he explains all to Julian Shea.

Friday, October 6, 2017

PETER TRUDGILL traces the clockwork progress of the word ‘orange’ from southern India to northern Europe, and finds the odd detour.

Friday, October 6, 2017

JUSTIN REYNOLDS on the Thomas Mann novel which tried to make sense of the descent of Europe’s most cultured nation into Nazism.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

In the days before Stephen Paddock reignited America’s gun control debate by raining down rapid fire carnage on the Las Vegas strip, a familiar voice was again calling the shots inside Donald Trump’s head.

Podcast

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter