Two years ago, the idea that a man famed for taking his nanny canvassing, using the word ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ in the House of Commons, and who is regularly referred to as ‘the honourable member for the early twentieth century, could become the next Conservative Party Leader would have been met with derision. But that was before the surprising ascendency of Trump, Macron and Corbyn. Tellingly, the bookies now have Jacob Rees-Mogg as more likely to become the next Conservative Party leader than Boris Johnson and Ruth Davidson, and there has been a flurry of ‘Moggmentum’ articles both for and against his candidacy show just how seriously many are taking the idea.
Why Jacob Rees-Mogg for Tory leader is no laughing matter | Michael Segalov https://t.co/DTUXsP4rKa
— The Guardian (@guardian) July 20, 2017
Critics of Rees-Mogg ironically highlight many of the traits that many Conservative Party activists actually find appealing: he uncompromisingly supports Brexit and the free market (he recently called for the abolition of stamp duty, something many of his detractors jumped on as proof that he is ‘for the rich’), he isn’t afraid to voice unpopular opinions, and doesn’t attempt to hide his privileged roots. In fact, it’s this authenticity which, like Corbyn, is the key to his popularity. As James Delingpole writes in The Spectator “He’s quick on his feet, comfortable in his skin, knows his own mind and is beholden to no man. Having made his fortune as a value investor in emerging markets before becoming an MP, he is in the unusual position of being able to say what exactly he thinks — and from a position of knowledge and experience”.
So could Rees-Mogg be the Conservatives’ antidote to Corbyn? He certainly has significant grassroots support. In a survey for ConservativeHome, Jacob-Rees Mogg was the second most popular option after David Davis to take over as leader – despite voters having to submit his name, rather than it appearing on the dropdown list. Over 23,000 have signed the ‘readyformogg.org’ petition. He has legions of online fans (pages such as ‘Middle-Class Memes For Rees-Moggian Teens’ have nearly 50,000 likes), and this is only set to increase, given that he has recently joined both Instagram and Twitter. And given how many people seem to warm to him even when they disagree with his politics (e.g. Jess Phillips MP describes him as “charming and funny, kind, mad and totally himself” and Mhairi Black MP refers to him as “my boyfriend – he’s my favourite”), it seems possible that he could reach out and win over a large proportion of the public.
Despite this, could Rees-Mogg ever realistically become party leader? In short, probably not. The way that the Conservative Party elects their leadership differs significantly from other political parties. For example, Jeremy Corbyn was first able to stand as leader of the Labour Party after securing the nomination of just 35 of his fellow MPs before the Labour membership were able to vote for him. In contrast, Conservative MPs are given the task of voting on candidates until they have whittled them down to a final two. Only then are party members able to vote on them. Conservative MPs are unlikely to put forward such a wildcard who has never held a ministerial role before. Moreover, Heidi Allen MP has already threatened to resign from the party if he ever did become leader, demonstrating the uphill battle that he would face in any leadership campaign.
— Stop the EU 🇬🇧 (@Stop_The_EU) August 13, 2017
Sadly, for his supporters, we may never get the chance to find out if Rees-Mogg could be successful in a leadership bid. Even he has ruled it out (for now) stating that “I neither am a candidate, nor wish to be one… Nor is this some clever plan to seek other office; if it were, it would have been scotched some weeks ago when it was suggested to the PM, who giggled in response rather more than my mother considered tactful”.
But this hasn’t ended speculation. There is clearly an appetite amongst the grassroots for something a little bit different from the usual names circulated as Theresa May successors (David Davis, Philip Hammond etc), and for many, Rees-Mogg is a viable alternative. Whatever happens, it is clear that the next leader of the Conservative Party is far from a foregone conclusion.