03 Oct 2017

The irresistible appeal of the British right

Newspapers still write about elaborate hats worn by duchesses at social functions. They still consult Debrett’s guide to etiquette. And it's reasonable to assume that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s mystique is at least partly rooted in his blue-blooded elegance.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team NewsMavens, Europe
Source: The Telegraph
The irresistible appeal of the British right - NewsMavens
Hat. Jacques Monnin/Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Jacob Rees-Mogg is a baffling figure. In case you haven’t been following British politics closely, here is a quick overview of his significance and his style.

Firstly, he may be chosen as future leader of the British Conservative Party -- a position currently held by UK Prime Minister Theresa May -- due to his growing popularity among British conservatives.

Secondly, as a practicing Catholic, his social views are more conservative than those of the average Tory. For example, he is against abortion for rape victims.

Thirdly, he is the perfect embodiment of the British upper-class, and herein lies his dangerous appeal.

In an earlier piece about him, we posited that his popularity was anomalous considering how far removed his views were from those of the average Brit. But anomalous or not, his ratings have not gone down an iota since. And this week, lo and behold, he received quasi-universal praise for his handling of a tense confrontation at a protest.

In all fairness, the episode showcases his poise and unwavering refinement. He coolly counters argument after argument. After being told he is a despicable person, he calmly invites his attacker to a rational discussion, flaunting his flawless upper-class accent. For such is the British upper-class: composed, coherent, unapologetic. And its appeal is not waning, no matter what we are being told.

While it is true that the BBC now tolerates regional (read 'non-upper-class') accents, and that UK surveys reveal that the upper-class is the least liked layer of British society, there are subtle indicators that these shifts in opinion are superficial. Newspapers still publish articles about those elaborate hats worn by duchesses at social functions. People still consult Debrett’s guide to etiquette. And it's reasonable to assume that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s mystique is at least partly rooted in his blue-blooded elegance.

All of which brings us to political literacy. In an ideal world, we voters would be able to fully dissociate personality from policy. But human nature being what it, charismatic individuals often manage to rally followers to their cause despite significant discrepancies in values and opinion. In other words, Jacob Rees-Mogg probably has a political future in Great Britain, no matter how eccentric his views.

Details from the story:

  • On Oct. 2, an angry protester shouted insults at Jacob Rees-Mogg at a Conservative Party Conference
  • Rees-Mogg calmly invited the protester to discuss and explore their disagreement
  • Rees-Mogg argued that unemployment was low, and that "employment historically has always been the best route out of poverty"
  • The protester answered: That's absolutely not true. That's a categorical lie. You're a despicable person"
  • Rees-Mogg: "Let's leave my despicability to one side. What's important is to have the conversation. You're welcome to talk to me, but it's difficult if your intention is just to shout and wave leaflets"

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