They say politics is “showbusiness for ugly people”: arguably a reasonably harsh assessment. However, it definitely taps into the scope for personality cults to spring up in politics: if you’re willing to lay yourself and your beliefs on the line to the bitter end, chances are you’ve got some pretty strong convictions. From the Jeremy Corbyn T-shirts to #FeelTheBern graphics, there’s a lot of value in being able to rally people around not only your ideas, but you as an individual.
Jacob Rees-Mogg definitely cuts a unique character in the halls of Westminster. He very much resembles a Victorian gentleman who has tripped and fallen over his penny-farthing into the twenty-first century. From his partialness to a double-breasted suit to his impeccable manners, the Conservative MP for North East Somerset is certainly a blast from the past.
If you’re not overly familiar with Mr Rees-Mogg, you can get quite a good measure of him from how bemused he was by his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G, his setting the record for the longest ever word used in Parliament, or from him showing the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips, around his constituency. Say what you like about Jacob Rees Mogg, but he is definitely a seasoned and consummate parliamentarian: eloquent, articulate, and impeccably polite. This is his personality, and that is what endears him to a lot of people.
Granted, there’s definitely strong entertainment value in watching Jacob Rees-Mogg immersing himself in Oktoberfest, in a sporting but fish-out-of-water sort of way. It’s easy to see how the “Moggmentum” has got going: just look at how a wholesome photo of a local MP perusing his local church fete adds some variety to your Instagram feed of avocado brunches and inflatable flamingos.
This is all even before we lift the lid on the plethora of Mogg memes. “Can’t Clog The Mogg”, “Middle Class Memes for Rees Moggian Teens”, “Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group”, the list goes on – when was the last time anyone was that engaged with a potential Tory leader? Despite Theresa May’s assertion that she will lead the Conservatives to the next election, there are rumours swirling of who could be tipped as the next leader of the party. Meme-magnet Mogg is one of them.
This is all fun and games: quirky vernacular, old-fashioned mannerisms, and parliamentary gravitas. It’s funny until it really isn’t. What is inherently problematic is his political viewpoints. Rees-Mogg stirred up a conversation when he admitted that he was completely opposed to abortion in all cases, including with cases of incest and rape: he views abortion as “morally indefensible.” While he did stipulate that even if he were Prime Minister, the law would be unlikely change, this view is deep-held and sincere. Similarly, citing his Catholic faith, Mr Rees-Mogg reiterated his opposition to gay marriage.
While he has explained that he would be unlikely to make moves to change the laws surrounding these two contentious social issues, this is still a precarious situation. To have a leader of one of the major British parties with these deeply held views risks setting us back decades in social progress and attitudes.
The fight for equality for the LGBT+ community is by no means over, but major steps have been made in recent years: to have these discriminatory views broadly legitimised risks undoing all that good work. The same principle applies to abortion: to have these potentially damaging views being brought to the fore sets a dangerous precedent.
Outsiders and zany figures must be taken seriously, and not just as a joke. So many, from the media, to the Republican establishment, to the Democrats, did not take Donald Trump seriously as a candidate. He was too extreme, they said, too much of a bizarre character, just a rogue curveball. With his orange perma-tan, terrible blonde toupée, tiny hands, and limited intellect, he is almost beyond caricature.
Yet his incompetence coupled with his blatant sexism and racism renders him a genuine threat, and not a joke. The worst thing is that none of it is a surprise, or anything we hadn’t seen prior to Trump’s election: he was not taken seriously. So here we are, in autumn 2017 with him making up imaginary African countries, spending the Sunday of Hurricane Harvey tweeting about building the wall with Mexico, and threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea. Donald Trump is not a joke: he is a danger.
It can be very easy to get carried away by a quirky personality, particularly with so many bland politicians who have been on the scene for a while. Sure, some of those Rees Mogg memes are quality content. But it’s important to remember that all politicians are there for a primary reason: because of their beliefs.
These beliefs are what we must truly judge our potential leaders on. Satire, jokes, and discussion are fundamental parts of a healthy democracy and are therefore to definitely be encouraged. It is vital, however, that we keep sight of what is really going on behind the surface character: choose how you wish to align yourself based on policy, not just personality.
Written by Ellen Pickett