I’ve spent a lot of time on American politics over the past few weeks and feel like it’s time to return home. British politics is a bit of a shit-show, although less dramatically so.
Let me introduce Jacob Rees-Mogg. He is the MP for North East Somerset, a right-wing Conservative who has gained popularity within a party that seems to be losing it. Known for his hard-Brexit stance, his views against abortion even after rape, and his opposition to same-sex marriage, he’s not exactly the kind of politician you would expect to start gaining popularity in the 21st century. He is often referred to as an ‘eccentric backbencher’, but eccentric doesn’t even begin to cover it. In 1997, he attempted to win a seat in Central Fife, a Labour-supporting, working-class constituency. Who did he bring with him? His nanny. So how has this privileged, Victorian character grown his fanbase?
Do I need to ask? Social media is at it again. Some have dubbed him ‘the Moggfather’. Others see him as the anti-Corbyn, which appeals a lot to those who feel alienated by the Labour leader’s socialist opinions. Rees-Mogg has a surprising amount of online support: 44k+ people on Instagram follow his updates on campaigns as well as his six children. Yes, this man has helped to reproduce on at least six separate occasions (don’t think about that too hard).
However much you disagree with his views, the man can be clever. At the Conservative conference, a heckler called him ‘despicable’ to which his response was to ask for specific reasons why. Asking people to justify their claims with what they actually disagree with, and trying to engage in an evidence-based debate – now that’s not something you see every day in politics. I’m all for it. It wheedles out those who have jumped on whichever political bandwagon is most viral at the moment and forces them to give reasons for their shouting.
I’m not buying it though. Rees-Mogg is just another figure in a tradition of creating caricatures of our MPs. Boris Johnson: the man on the zip wire with the Union Jacks. Nigel Farage: the one we can count on to say the most ridiculously racist comments. David Cameron: the PM who fucked a pig. Ed Milliband: bacon sandwich man. In fact, I’ve put a quick reminder of poor Ed below for you to enjoy.
We don’t listen to their policies or values; we make memes of them. Funny? Sometimes. Harmful? Maybe. Because whilst we’re sharing pictures of them looking stupid, they’re making decisions about our country’s laws.
The Rees-Mogg character is old-fashioned, Eton-educated with a Grade-II listed manor to call home and that iconic double-breasted suit. He tweets in Latin. His kids’ names are likely to get them punched at some point in their lives. There are jokes thrown around about his class and his upbringing – Downton Abbey anyone?
We forget it’s just that: a character. The nanny got us talking, but not about policy. The right-wing social politics on abortions and gay rights seem like all just part of the act, just like Farage’s racist sentiments only fulfilled our expectations of him.
We’ve been laughing at these people’s mannerisms and ignoring what the character is hiding. Rees-Mogg wasn’t far off replacing Theresa May as Prime Minister in the summer. I recommend that you read a bit more about his beliefs and background to realise just how scary that is. Some of them make May look like Corbyn’s best mate.
Social media is great for MPs to reach out to the public and become more human, but when the thing that matters – namely, the politics – suffers, where does that leave us?