What Rees-Mogg’s popularity reveals about the Tories

Published by The ipaper (11th September, 2017)

The idea of Jacob Rees-Mogg as the leader to save Tories from electoral crisis is laughable, certainly in this century. He is a hardline right-winger with bigoted social views who reaffirms many people’s fears about his party as being out of touch with ordinary people. A father-of-six who brags about never changing nappies, still talks about his nanny, has never cooked a meal and had a maid shield his neck from sun at Glyndebourne opera is hardly the sort of person to reconnect with struggling younger and female voters, even in this unpredictable political climate. He has one thing going for him, which is alleged authenticity – although all that exaggerated poshness feels a rather affected pose.

Yet so serious is the party’s plight that one poll found Tory activists think this cartoon toff is their best choice for next leader. Rees-Mogg has never held ministerial office, nor been tested in the harsh glare of political spotlight. But these deluded dreamers see in him their mirror image of Jeremy Corbyn, a true believer coming in from the fringe to fire up voters searching for something different. This poll exposes the despair clouding the Conservatives as they prepare for their first conference since throwing away their majority so casually under Theresa May.

Now those great expectations lie dashed as she haunts Downing Street like the heartbroken Miss Havisham in her decaying Dickensian mansion. The party puts up with this tragic figure only for lack of decent alternative, hoping their doomed prime minister can take all the Brexit flak before a saviour can be found lurking somewhere in the lower ranks. This is a party once renowned for ruthlessness, deposing even its adored Iron Lady when her appeal rusted with voters. The Tories have dominated the economic and political landscape for much of my adult lifetime, but now look divided and largely pointless beyond serving as a bulwark against Corbyn.

This highlights how the right seems to have suddenly lost confidence in its core beliefs when challenged by a revived left to resolve the gaping contradictions of capitalism. The crass stupidity of holding a referendum on European Union membership split open the festering sores on an issue that causes so much pain for the party. Now we see a key conservative commentator such as Sir Max Hastings saying he would never vote for a Brexit Tory party as the party risks the country’s future with such insouciance. Even former party treasurer Lord Harris of Peckham, a major donor for many years and respected philanthropist, says he would prefer a strong moderate Labour government to this sad shambles of a government.

Underlying this funk and panic lies something profound. For instead of challenging the resurgence of nationalism, the confused post-Brexit Tories simply embraced a dark and highly-divisive political force. Now they promote myths of an exceptional nation held back by dastardly rivals. They seek splendid isolation from continental allies. And their devalued leader insists the referendum was a vote to stem the flow of foreigners into our land, so building walls is deemed more important than building the economy. May presses ahead with damaging plans to slash immigration as seen with leaked papers last week, despite her own persistent failures on this front.

This flirtation with nationalism renders the desperate search for policies that might resonate with young voters largely futile. Brexit, hard borders and boasts of British exceptionalism rightly repel generations brought up in a diverse, globalised world. They also anger firms trying to plan for the future. And they infuriate those who view immigration as a societal boon and indicator of success. Little wonder there is so little love for this impotent government, especially when combined with appalling inability to even define Brexit six months after the trigger was pulled on the process.

The same seismic forces rip apart the party of the right in the United States. Donald Trump is a far more overt nationalist yet most Republicans – stunned by his success – went along with his depressing world view and daft protectionism. Suddenly there is dissent and open threat of conflict amid a public falling out with the congressional leadership, leaving sacked strategist Steve Bannon fighting to save his insurgency under the hashtag #war. ‘Many in the party now say they are inching closer to an unavoidable, full-blown civil war,’ reported the New York Times.

At least there are flickering signs of fightback in Washington against this corrosive creed from those on the right who take a longer-term view for their party and hold more positive perspective on humanity. How different to Westminster, although damage from Brexit will last longer than chaos caused by one president (assuming Trump leaves without sparking civil unrest or nuclear confrontation). Instead we hear backbiting and bitching in private, then see pathetic capitulation after mild skirmishes in public. Hang together and hang any principles seems to be the watchword, regardless of harm to country and party.

Both Republicans and Conservatives face the same challenge: how to contain resurgent nationalists while protecting economic health and maintaining appeal to moderates and business. Both parties are in power yet shattered by electoral blows brought on by past failures to resolve glaring problems. Perhaps this is all part of a political realignment that will take a generation. Regardless, if those Tories living in the modern world do not start showing steel in their fight against the ultras, they deserve to end up being led by a ridiculous reactionary. Just pity the voters if left confronted with the devil’s choice between Corbyn and Rees-Mogg.

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