Jacob Rees-Mogg is everywhere at the moment.
He’s on TV so much I fear the producers of Question Time have lost Nigel Farage’s mobile number. Videos of his parliamentary speeches attract hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. He even gained the respect of rivals after being jostled by far-Left protesters at a university event this month.
His amassing army of fans want him to replace Theresa May and they’ve been making quite a racket about it. Speaking of rackets, the bookmakers have him odds-on favourite to be the next Tory leader and polls of party members consistently put him on top.
His appeal rests on his fervent Brexiteerism and his traddy, top-hat-and-tails image. He presents as an end-of-the-pier Enoch Powell, a vaudevillian spin on High Tory reaction – Sunday Night at the Palladium as hosted by Maurice Cowling.
All this has helped him usurp Boris Johnson as the Tory celebrity du jour. Like Mr Johnson, he is an idiot’s idea of a savant, at the ready with an erudite-sounding epigram but as elusive as Macavity once you’re done fact-checking his latest assertion.
Censorious Left-wingers damn him for his Catholic views on marriage and human life but the case against Mr Rees-Mogg is not that he is too severe but that he is too flippant. He is a man who keeps talking because he fears when he stops he will be found out.
The frustration felt by Brexiteers is sincere. They find Mrs May too wishy-washy in her dealings with Brussels and long for a British bulldog to set about these bothersome Continentals. Mr Rees-Mogg, a backbencher free from the compromises of government, speaks in appealingly blithe asseverations. Mr Johnson once did the same and has learned, mostly to the cost of others, that being a minister requires more than a quip here and a Latin pun there.
Yes, replacing Mrs May with Mr Rees-Mogg would wrong-foot the Brussels negotiators and enrage the Corbynistas but parties should not choose their leaders merely to troll their opponents. This is a serious moment and it demands seriousness not just from politicians but from us.
We are embarked on the greatest political, economic and constitutional upheaval in decades in the form of Brexit. There is also the small matter of a rabble of Stalinists and terrorist-sympathisers perched perilously close to 10 Downing Street. These are not times for glibness or entertainment value.
Celebrity is not new in politics. Ronald Reagan was a B-movie actor before becoming Governor of California and later President. But, contrary to the caricature of a folksy cowboy, he had been steeped in union politics as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He had also read extensively, from Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to Whittaker Chambers’ Witness to Richard Crossman’s The God that Failed. He may have spoken in avuncular anecdotes but Reagan had a fully thought out philosophy of government and human affairs.
Mr Rees-Mogg does not give the impression of a thoughtful man. Indeed, his judgement is open to question.
Last month, he and Brexit minister Steve Baker told Parliament a prominent EU policy analyst had admitted Treasury civil servants gamed economic modelling to keep Britain in the customs union. When the wonk denied the allegation, and offered a recording of the event on which no such remarks can be heard, Mr Baker apologised. Mr Rees-Mogg did not and, worse, repeated the charge. It was far from the behaviour of the gentleman he portrays himself to be.
In 2013, he spoke at a dinner held by the Traditional Britain Group, a Powellite sect on the outer fringes of the radical Right. When Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, was recognised for her campaigning with a peerage, Traditional Britain decried it as a ‘monstrous disgrace’ and Baroness Lawrence as ‘totally without merit’.
‘She, along with millions of others, should be requested to return to their natural homelands,’ the group added. It also referred to London-born Labour MP Chuka Umunna as ‘a Nigerian’ and Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, a Kurd who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq aged nine, as ‘foreign’.
Mr Rees-Mogg professed his shock and disassociated himself from the organisation. Yet, he had been warned in advance by anti-racist activists at Searchlight. His only diligence was to ask Conservative Central Office about the group (it had never heard of them) and to make a phone call one hour before the dinner began to its vice-president Gregory Lauder-Frost, whose assurances were enough for the North East Somerset MP.
Of course, this was the same Gregory Lauder-Frost who was a central figure in the Monday Club, a pressure group kicked out of the Tory Party in 2001 for advocating repatriation. Traditional Britain’s president Lord Sudeley told a Monday Club meeting in 2006 that ‘Hitler did so well to get everyone back to work’.
I’m sure Mr Rees-Mogg finds such views repellent but supping with the devil is an occupational hazard when your career is one long strut of provocateur fogeyism. There is a genre of Right-winger who never grows out of the theatrical Toryism of their student days and the boozy dinners that demand sound opinions and sounder constitutions. Their taste in claret improves with age but their ideological palate never advances beyond dry revanchism and the ideological machismo of competitive contrarianism.
Mr Rees-Mogg goes down well with Tory students because his worldview is theirs: a thump of the table and a cry of ‘no left turn’.
Some of our best leaders have been outsiders but that doesn’t mean every crank with a witticism is the next Churchill. ‘Mogg for PM’ is not a cry against the political system but a surrender to it, an acceptance that it’s all pointless so why not have a little fun along the way. Jacob Rees-Mogg is a first-class turn and politics is brighter for having him in it. He is not a leader and not a Prime Minister.
The invasion of Israeli airspace by an Iranian drone operated from Syria – and Syria’s shooting down of an Israeli F-16 – highlights the growing threat of Iran and its proxies.
Tehran is a major destabilising force in the Middle East and a leading financier of Islamist terrorism. Donald Trump scorned the Kumbaya-with-Khamenei approach of Barack Obama but he has to hammer out his own, more assertive, strategy for tackling the rogue regime.
One small mercy in all this is that, even if the situation between Israel and Syria escalates, a ground war is unlikely thanks to Israel’s presence in the Golan Heights. The 700 square mile plateau was captured in 1967 and annexed in 1981, much to the consternation of the United Nations.
Yet Israel’s decision proved wise and ensured a strategic buffer zone on its north-eastern border. The Golan is vital to security and it’s time the international community swallowed its pride and recognised the region as part of Israel.
This column marks the one-year anniversary of my arrival on this page. I’m grateful for your loyal readership and warm correspondence. Obviously, it’s a special occasion but I was still surprised to receive a gift from the SNP: A depute leadership contest between James Dornan and, potentially, Pete Wishart. It’s just what I’ve always wanted.