‘One more fumble and May is finished’, the Sunday Telegraph’s headline read. Fumble or not, and whatever protestations of loyalty her Cabinet colleagues make, none seriously believes that Theresa May can lead the Conservative Party into the next election in 2022.
Nor dare she call an early election, not after the humiliating revelation of Lynton Crosby’s leaked memo. ‘I’m not sure that is a smart idea, mate,’ her election guru told her on hearing she was calling an election last time. Her colleagues will also have read the Survation poll published in the Mail on Sunday. It does not look good. It not only shows Labour with a five-point lead but it also reports voters’ belief that if May and Corbyn lead their respective parties into an election by 2022, Corbyn will win, albeit by a tiny margin.
The inescapable fact is that Mrs May is no longer convincing. She has not regained her confidence since her defeat in June. Her body posture, whether at Passchendaele or in Japan, breathes an unease with her role. The public, according to this poll, do not believe she has the guts to go though with her threat to walk away with ‘no deal’ if the Brexit talks collapse. Nor do I. She never demonstrated the authority of her predecessor and won’t now.
They won’t say it out loud, but off the record Cabinet members say that her determination to stick it out is delusional.
It is little wonder, then, that the ‘the next leader’ question won’t go away. No one is waiting for the magic 48 signatures to start drawing up the battle lines.
But this time something rather different from the usual back-stabbing has been going on. The normally hierarchical Conservatives are being taken over by a ‘people’s movement’ – a veritable uprising or revolution, if that is not a contradiction in terms. It has mimicked Labour’s Momentum, but in name only.
Voters have taken to the once unfamiliar backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg without anyone twisting their arms. ‘Moggmentum’ happened. It has no enforcers, no ‘shaming’ you into modernity with its illiberal orthodoxies. This is more of a fan club for a persona, what it represents; for how Rees-Mogg unashamedly and un-selfconsciously presents himself and, most of all, the intelligence, values and civility he portrays. Read the Facebook page to see:
‘Great man. Cool as a cucumber under pressure. Easy to listen to because not only does he know the Constitution better than any MP I’ve ever heard speak, but he breaks it down into language we can all understand.’
‘Witty, very intelligent, an excellent orator, doesn’t shy away from, or double-speak about, any question put to him. A ‘left footer’ but an Englishman through and through and part of a wonderful family too!’
This praise of his traditional qualities goes on, representing a self-generating culture wars fightback.
Though Jacob took to Twitter only recently (with a Latin maxim) he gets more ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ for his tweets than any Cabinet member, including the Prime Minister.
YouTube is his making. He is never fazed, he never raises his voice, but explains it as it is, leaving his co-debaters speechless – as here when he put Sir Vince Cable right about Brexit (straight after the Conservatives lost their majority, mind). He is what my son calls a legend. I’d set him against Kim Jong-un any time.
The more the media write off the ever-courteous Rees-Mogg as ‘MP for the 18th Century’ or as a fogeyish ‘non-possibility’, the more they will have egg on their faces for being out of touch with ordinary voters, and the stronger the Moggmentum will grow.
According to the same Survation poll, Rees-Mogg is now second only to Boris Johnson in the leadership stakes – with 9 per cent to Boris’s 19 per cent. Boris should be worried. There is a limit to the public’s affection for his buffoonery and narcissism. Whatever the newspaper backing he may win, it is no longer guaranteed to match social media support.
Jacob is all that Boris is not. To Boris’s celebrity persona, ‘faux’ authenticity and opportunism, Jacob is the real deal. To Boris the actor and buffoon, Jacob plays it straight. The Conservative MP Heidi Allen, that not-so-pale pink imitation of Labour, has promised to resign if Rees-Mogg becomes leader – which only adds grist to the Moggmentum mill. People are sick of the Conservatives’ so-called modernity, which in reality is oppressive and undermines both freedom and responsibility.
Whatever Boris’s biographer insists about his brilliance, it’s been pretty well hidden since the Brexit campaign. Yet Jacob – ever more in demand by the media – never fails to nail the issue, his debating partners and the interviewer at one and the same time, without ever raising his voice or changing the tempo of his speech.
Boris’s mumbling and bumbling contrasts poorly with Jacob’s clear and measured diction. His jokes may work on a walkabout or for an after-dinner speech but it’s Jacob’s low-key irony that wins the argument.
If Boris hasn’t yet mastered his foreign affairs brief, as his biographer admits, you have to wonder what his grip of the economy and finance would be. Yet Jacob (highly successful in his own right) gives every impression of having the ability and self-discipline to command both.
And who, when the chips were down – in the case of a catastrophe or an emergency – would you feel you could rely on? The disappearing and unpredictable Johnson or the ever-present and reliable Rees-Mogg?
Who would you want to see walking into Number Ten next time round? A ramshackle comic, burdened by a libertine past with his bohemian clan in the wings, or the socially conservative, overtly happily married father of a functional smiling family, representing the values that most young people still dream of?
It’s a no-brainer.