When Theresa May first took over from the Tory leadership she had an air of competence and strength. Over a year and a half later and not only has she lost her majority, but many would say that she has lost her credibility too. One key Tory figure to emerge from the post-EU referendum chaos and even being spoken about as being a future leader of the party is North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Although at first glance softly spoken and perhaps even strangely endearing, this article argues that Rees-Mogg’s political rise needs to be taken seriously because his deeply conservative ideology risks undoing hard-fought for progress in social justice and threatens modern day liberal values.
Much of Rees-Mogg’s appeal derives from his consistent line against the EU. Amidst the uncertainty regarding the type of deal that Britain is going to get after its exit, and the important questions regarding to what extent Britain will stay integrated with the EU and its respective bodies, Rees-Mogg continues to head the populist camp which rejects all things EU and instead champions “the will of the people”. Of course it is all too easy to spew out empty lines of “take back control” and not go into the detail of what this means, or comment on the constitutional nuances concerning the relationship between EU and UK law which evade even top legal academics, but this type of populist positioning has won Rees-Mogg notable political support. Indeed a recent poll placed Rees-Mogg as second favourite to succeed May, should she be forced out of leadership. Accordingly, his significance in current political discourse should not be doubted.
However, the ascendency of Mr Rees-Mogg needs to be matched with an ample amount of caution. There are two key reasons for this. Firstly, Rees-Mogg’s old-fashioned demeanor may afford him less scrutiny and thus an easier rise up the political hierarchies. His caricature-esque personality is comparable to Boris Johnson who to too many was considered a “bit of a joke” in British politics. Yet it is Johnson who, according to the poll cited earlier, is the favourite to succeed May and moreover who now occupies one of the more senior Cabinet positions in his role as Foreign Affairs Minister. We should not have the same dismissive attitude when it comes to Rees-Mogg.
The second reason why he must be taken seriously leads to the crux of my criticism of him: his voting record and ideological beliefs reveal a man of distasteful, discriminatory and dangerous views. His votes on social issues, from a socially liberal point of view, are appalling. He has consistently voted against LGBT rights and other equality measures – in fact in 2013 he even voted against making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste! Votes in other policy areas also show how backwards Rees-Mogg is. For instance, true to his climate skeptic self, he has voted against CO2 targets aimed at tackling climate change in regards to new homes and the UK as a whole. The rest of his voting record also illustrates a conservative ideology which places him in the hard right of the Conservative party: his votes show a desire to diminish the welfare system, to scale back on immigration and immigrant rights and demonstrates his support for bankers and big business. Indeed, it is not just his voting record that demonstrates Rees-Mogg unpalatable political views, but also his comments on other issues. For instance, in typical Rees-Mogg-style he is against abortion in all circumstances, rape included, and thus flouts all consideration of a woman’s right to choose on this matter.
Going forward, thus, it is important that we take Jacob Rees-Mogg seriously and see him for what he really is: a bigot.