The Daily Politics mood box, a receptacle through which the show records public opinion on a topical binary question, is a lot of balls. A recent example, staged in west London, had passers-by cast the blue spheres in judgment on Jacob Rees-Mogg – an exercise undertaken in Uxbridge, one presumes, because JRM is generally assumed to have usurped local MP Boris Johnson as the standard-bearer for a full and proper Brexit. The precise result of the vox pop was not declared, but it appeared that 40-odd per cent of ball-handlers hailed Jacob as Hero, with a modest majority booing him as Villain.
Being declared a modern-day Raffles is obviously not the result JRM would have wished. Nevertheless, studio pundit and Labour cheerleader Kevin Maguire correctly identified this personal referendum as one no individual politician would be likely to win. And though unable to resist describing Mogg as ‘monocled and from the 18th century’ – fellow guest Camilla Tominey understandably rolled her eyes – chippy Kev still grudgingly acknowledged that it was an impressive level of personal support and further confirmation of JRM’s now being a major player.
Indeed, there is suspicion that the Daily Politics straw poll would have been much closer were it not for an alleged fraud. A BBC whistleblower claims to have witnessed multiple voting by a middle-aged woman. The unidentified brassy blonde is said to have deposited numerous balls while shrieking: ‘Villain! Rees-Mogg is not a proper Conservative – sling him out!’
Entirely by coincidence, a few days earlier Conservative MP Anna Soubry had expressed an identical sentiment. It was a week during which Anna appeared to have taken up residence at the BBC, to the extent that it was a relief not to find her guesting on the Graham Norton Show, regaling the Irish chat show host with a baleful anecdote involving customs tariffs and a hard border.
We are accustomed to Soubry’s wide-eyed histrionics at the UK being crowbarred out of her beloved EU. But the Newsnight interview was full bananas Anna as she passed judgment on who is and who is not a ‘proper Conservative’, declaring the Government to be ‘in hock to 35 hard ideological Brexiteers’ whom Theresa May should ‘sling out’.
What was different during this past week was the venom Soubry directed specifically at Jacob Rees-Mogg; a malice all the more surprising because it was only a few weeks earlier that, while downplaying JRM’s popularity, she had acknowledged him to be ‘a delightful man’. Yet last week not only did she promise that ‘I’m not going to stay in a party taken over by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg’ but, pathetically, she even echoed Harriet Harman’s outrageous assertion that JRM is a ‘deadbeat dad’, as if voters care tuppence about the domestic arrangements chez Mogg.
Chairing the European Research Group of Tory MPs has undoubtedly put an extra spring in the Rees-Mogg step and provides a potential power base within the party which previously he did not have. One can only assume that it is this recent appointment, plus JRM’s rightly censuring the Chancellor for ‘freelancing’ against party policy, that prompted Anna Soubry to come out swinging: ‘Something is going to have to give, because if it doesn’t, not only will we get Jacob Rees-Mogg as our Prime Minister, we’ll get a devastating hard Brexit.’
Mogg as PM . . . a swift, clean Brexit . . . amen to all of that, many will say. However, to state the obvious, JRM could become leader and PM only with the support of both the parliamentary party and membership; therefore, before firing her scattergun Anna really should decide whether she believes Jacob Rees-Mogg to be ‘unrepresentative of the modern-day Conservative Party’ or in fact sufficiently in tune to be the tribune of the grass roots.
During her tirade on Newsnight, Anna threatened to ‘form some new alliance’ – a warning which came as a surprise to those who presumed she was already in cahoots with members of other parties. Therefore it was no shock on Sunday to see Andrew Marr interview the reunited crossover duo of Soubry and Umunna.
‘We won’t stop [Brexit]. It is the people,’ deadpanned Anna, the Remainers’ sweetheart. And slick Chuka smoothly delivered his catchphrases, ‘Nobody voted to jump off a cliff’ and ‘nobody voted to be poorer’. Yes, the double-act which has already performed in Brussels for the amusement of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is back on the road, and coming soon to a television studio – any television studio – near you.