Jacob Rees-Mogg is Not Going to Be the Next Prime Minister
That Jacob Rees-Mogg is still getting airtime is a sign that the silly season is not quite over. “Right-wing Party Approves of Right-wing Politician” is perhaps only marginally less startling a headline than “Dog Bites Man”. That observers are taking it seriously is a sign of the shocks politics has produced. Politics is not a series of Aristotlean impossible probables though. Sometimes the possible happens.
So, having learned nothing from the last few months, I am going to make a prediction: Jacob Rees-Mogg will not become Britain’s next prime minister.
Coalition with the Liberal Democrats obscured that the Tory party - obsessed by Europe - has been unfit for government for nearly three decades. That it does not mean there are the numbers to get a fringe candidate close to Downing Street’s steps.
Jeremy Corbyn is not a parallel for Rees-Mogg but a lesson of the dangers of electing a leader out of step with the parliamentary party. Unencumbered by democratic pretensions, the Tory party is happy to take their membership for granted. It was to placate a minority of MPs, not the membership, that David Cameron made his ill-fated referendum pledge.
The lunatics have not taken over the asylum. They are merely in Matron’s office causing a lot of difficulties.
The Tory divide is between the old guard and younger member
There has not already been a change of leadership because the obvious crop of contenders is so weak. Each candidate has flaws that makes their elevation to the purple unlikely. There is a sense that the next leadership must be a genuine battle. Hence why MPs are willing to wait.
The question becomes more interesting when you consider how May’s position has stabilised since her disastrous election. When she declared that she was no quitter and intended to fight the next election, the laughter with which the statement was met on social media was equaled by the indifference in her party. To paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies, she would say that, wouldn’t she?
She has not been in office long enough to have attained a Thatcherite level of detachment from reality though.
If her relatively strengthened position allows her to bring in new blood, she will begin to remedy her original ill: that her Remainer status forced her to rely so greatly on long-standing Brexiters.
Ironically, the Conservatives might be helped by Labour. Like one of those apocryphal veterans found in Asian jungles still fighting the last war, Corbyn continues to campaign around the country. Nobody has told him that the election is over: the real battle is in Westminster.
His Shadow Brexit Secretary has set out a policy that gives enough to Remainers to unite his party, it also could cause potential trouble. Yet Corbyn is not wily enough a parliamentary tactician and too terrifying a prospect as prime minister to bring down the government.
That there needs to be a transition is pretty much accepted by all except Nigel Farage who won’t be satisfied unless David Davis goes into talks and headbutts Michel Barnier. It is the nature and the timing of any transition where the question lies not its need. So the ultimate effect might be to force the Tories onto more sensible ground.
The real Tory divide is between the old guard and younger members. The massive increase in seats in 2010, then in 2015 gives newer members a great say in who will be the next Conservative leader. As a bloc they form roughly two-thirds of the parliamentary party. Among their number are twelve new Scottish Tory MPs, unlikely Brexit obsessives. Their leader Ruth Davidson is likely to be influential as well.
While it remains to be seen if they can come up with an electorally appealing programme to rival Labour’s offer, they are less scarred by decades of Tory civil war.
Rees-Mogg is only nominally among them. And the longer May stays, the greater the chance that they will not retreat towards their core vote. Moreover, they are unlikely to be deterred by the fact that so far they have not received May's preferment.
Both parties have a leadership problem
The story of the Tory party is one of constant reinvention. Only by being bold and ignoring the current contenders can they perform the same trick that John Major performed in 1990 when he presented his government as a change.
Any new leader will also benefit from the fact that the metal of the current lady in Downing Street has all the tensile strength of aluminium foil.
The previous consensus was that Corbyn could never become prime minister. He is now the bookies’ favourite. Yet there is little sign of the drive to build support that ejected the Tories from office in the 1990s. One more heave is a complacent electoral strategy. If the other consensus - that this government will not go the distance - is wrong, in 2022 he might find voters more sceptical of his familiar political charms. Both parties have a leadership problem.
It is remarkable that Corbyn leads a party that has a statistical lead in opinion polls. However, any other leader would be facing frustration because that lead is so narrow.
It is an indictment of the current prime minister that her Cabinet is bereft of genuine leadership material. However, that does not mean Jacob Rees-Mogg should be measuring the drapes for Downing Street.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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