A JACOBEAN COMEDY

Hard to believe now, but ITV’s late afternoon schedule once consisted of programmes aimed at an audience of schoolchildren, programmes regularly of the same high standard that appealed to the same viewers over on BBC1. Amidst the drama serials, comedies, cartoons and pop shows were documentaries, one of which in the early 1980s featured a precocious posh boy whose prematurely adult demeanour and stated ambition to be Prime Minister had my brother and me in stitches as we watched him being chauffeur driven to school whilst he perused the Financial Times. Not only did he seem to be a middle-aged Tory MP occupying the body of a young boy (probably not the first time that’s ever happened), but he was that most unenviable pubescent pariah – the Swot.

Other than ‘Poof’, Swot was perhaps the biggest insult that could be hurled in the direction of a pupil at the school of hard knocks that was my educational establishment. To actually derive pleasure from learning was definitely a no-no in the popularity stakes. Popularity was earned via three routes: being good at football, being good at fighting, and being a class comedian. I opted for the latter because of my lack of ability in the other two. It goes without saying that an appetite for knowledge being frowned upon is now something I realise denied me a great deal later in life, yet school for me and many of my contemporaries was more a case of survival than education. I knew the young chap starring on the aforementioned ITV documentary wouldn’t have lasted a day at my school, yet look where he is now.

It took a good thirty years or more before a reunion with a snippet of this documentary made me belatedly aware its star was Jacob Rees-Mogg. I was more aware of his father in the years immediately following its broadcast, largely as a result of William Rees-Mogg’s famous contribution to British pop culture when editor of the Times via his key intervention in the infamous attempt to imprison Mick Jagger on flimsy drug possession charges in 1967. His son was already well on the way to the path he’d outlined in the early 80s documentary, famously canvassing for a constituency in 1997 with the assistance of his nanny. He eventually entered Parliament at the 2010 General Election when he won the secure Tory heartland of North-East Somerset.

Post-New Labour, the careerist, conveyor-belt politician whose blatant and shameless thirst for power requires he or she to chime with public opinion in the most cynical fashion has become something of a catch-all criticism of MPs in general where the electorate are concerned. The popularity of the few genuine characters in today’s politics, the rare breed that eschew the formula and are defiantly independent of the perceived consensus – whether Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage – should come as no great surprise when their contemporaries are so interchangeably bland; the unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader appeared to be the ultimate triumph over the politician bereft of any ideological beliefs, yet it is the right that has produced the majority of these mavericks, of which Jacob Rees-Mogg is the latest PG Wodehouse creation to ensnare the popular imagination.

Like the much-missed art critic Brian Sewell before him, a large proportion of the attention Rees-Mogg has been able to command is based on the quaint way he speaks. Ever since Harry Enfield parodied the old-school RP accent once obligatory for BBC announcers and RADA graduates, the Queen’s English has been a source of humour and ridicule. Prior to the revolutionary impact of both ‘Coronation Street’ and The Beatles in the early 60s, anybody who emerged from what used to be called ‘humble origins’ would consciously modify and hide their regional accent if seeking a career in public office or the public eye. That changed forever fifty years ago, and even Old Etonians whose prevalence across politics and the media has reasserted itself in recent years avoid the speech patterns of their predecessors today; Cameron and Gideon both swung towards hideous ‘Estuary English’ when seeking the vote of the common man, and the current crop of public school Luvvies that dominate stage and screen could never be mistaken for Noel Coward.

When Jacob Rees-Mogg was running for Parliament in 2010, he was described by Camilla Long in the Sunday Times as ‘David Cameron’s worst nightmare’, representing every privileged Conservative cliché Dave was desperate to sweep under the carpet in his bid to re-establish One Nation Toryism; but the public could see through Cameron’s dishonest efforts at playing the bloke card; he couldn’t even remember which team he supported, after all. Nobody could ever imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg even being aware either Aston Villa or West Ham are football clubs because with Rees-Mogg there’s no pretence. He is a posh boy and isn’t ashamed of the fact he’s out of step with contemporary mores; his nickname of Minister for the Eighteenth Century probably isn’t one he objects to.

A Conservative Party understandably dissatisfied with the woeful leadership of Theresa May has recently been indulging in one of its perennial fantasy beauty contests as to who should replace the current lame duck at the helm; Rees-Mogg was a surprise front-runner, undoubtedly because he’s a ‘character’ and so odd that he stands out from the grey crowd. However, when quizzed on the weak spot of his religion, Rees-Mogg has stood his ground, preferring to stick rigidly to Catholic doctrine on the likes of abortion and homosexuality despite its potential damage to his fanciful Prime Ministerial ambitions. As I wrote when ex-Lib Dem leader Tim Farron came under similar fire, however, why not be fair and apply this interrogation to prominent Muslim politicians such as Sadiq Khan? Christianity is hardly unique amongst prehistoric faiths where certain issues are concerned.

Granted, if Rees-Mogg is so devout, why hasn’t he applied the approach of Jesus towards the poor and underprivileged when it comes to Tory cuts in those areas? As with many who proudly confess their devotion to religious scriptures, he often comes across as a cherry-picker of the bits that complement his own personal beliefs and conveniently overlooks those that don’t. One could argue he’s the token joke candidate in a leadership contest that isn’t even on the agenda at the moment, but that’s exactly what Corbyn was regarded as by many, so there’s no call for complacency. That said, the backbench is always far more conducive to the maverick mischief-maker; and Jacob Rees-Mogg has his natural home there, where he can sing the praises of the Corn Laws and filibuster his way into the wee small hours while the sun never sets on the Empire.

© The Editor

2 thoughts on “A JACOBEAN COMEDY

  1. Unlike most of the other 649 in that place, Jacob Rees-Mogg is pure WYSIWIG, what you see is what you get – just as Dennis Skinner will not compromise his position to accommodate anyone else, least of all his own party, so JRM offers a different take on the same constancy.
    His accent may be formal but the measure of any speaker should be more about their range and choice of vocabulary than on how it is enunciated – JRM has an acute precision of word-choice, from a very broad and deep vocabulary, which also sets him far apart from the others.

    One may indeed suggest that, as such a dedicated Christian, he should happily expend his own personal wealth to alleviate the situation of the poor and needy. Once the vast wealth of the Roman Catholic and Anglican establishments has been thus exhausted, I might then support that notion, but not before those two corporate hypocrites have first turned face.

    Rees-Mogg will never, of course, become Prime Minister. In this world obsessed with faux-modernity and in the face of the inevitable media onslaught, he would be unelectable by the masses, more’s the pity – at least we would then have a PM with some principles, whether we agree with them or not.
    Far more likely is that he will become Speaker, a role for which he was probably born and to which he would bring a compensating gravitas to the frivolous fancies of the pompous Berk Berkow.

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