In the spring of 2011 as the Clegg-Cameron government struggled to do anything meaningful, I decided, in a rather puerile moment to set up a satirical twitter account in the name of Jake Rees-Mogg.
I had met JRM a few years earlier and he had seemed like a ripe comical character – a Wodehousian young Blimp, out of step with the times who (in sharp contrast to Cameron) made no attempt to hide who he was, where he came from or his often eccentric and sometimes offensive views. Here was a chance to poke fun at the Etonian new-old establishment and ridicule the big C conservative values of JRM and his ilk that had made such an unwelcome come-back. Back then it seemed inconceivable that Mogg would ever join twitter or dabble in social media or be within reach of high office and I felt certain that most people would spot that this was a joke if indeed anyone noticed it at all.
Unfortunately, I was rather good at it. At first I garnered a few hundred followers and then a few thousand. I was rather amused when some of the tweets were quoted in the broad-sheets and even more so when Rees-Mogg himself was approached by the Evening Standard and asked to comment on silly words which I had written on the bus going into Lewisham.
As time went by, I upped my game. My background is in playwriting (under a different name so don’t bother looking) and I am well-versed in the importance of status – a concept in theatre referring to the power difference between characters. By setting up my fictional Mogg at a very high status indeed and by being dismissive of everyone he crossed, while deploying a bit of Latin plagiarised from the dictionary of quotations – I found that more and more believed it was him. To my growing astonishment people began to retweet complete nonsense approvingly. I introduced running themes, catch-phrases – all the attributes of a comical stock character and then began to get DMs from all sorts of media outlets inviting him/me onto radio shows, TV – the lot. I took a Swiftian approach and politely declined citing recurring lumbago or a ‘prior luncheon engagement’ – only once or twice admitting that it wasn’t him.
To keep any long running character going you need dimensions and so I added in some fictional uncles and aunts, a blog and some witty repartee. The account was good to me. There were Private Eye stories of the real Jacob turning up to Newsnight on account of his ‘blog’ only to inform disappointed researchers that he didn’t write a blog. I got some TV work off the back of it and some free lunches out of journalists who wanted to meet me. I even met Jacob – courtesy of the BBC.
What had begun as a bit of a finger exercise was now ballooning out of control and at times I went full ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. As the account approached 20k, I had to stop myself getting annoyed with left wing trolls who I might otherwise agree with. When I got followed by big name right wing pundits and politicians, I felt obliged to follow them back and quite often had to slap myself when I found I was nodding along merrily to their tweets. I even got annoyed with the real Rees-Mogg – not because of his political leanings but because I became convinced, in a moment of dark paranoia, that he was stealing my material. His famed deployment of floccinaucinihilipilification for example came hot on the heels of my tweeting the word in a drunken moment.
As Rees-Mogg’s stock grew there were friends and even political journalists who suggested to me that I was ‘helping his rise.’ I mostly brushed them aside. It was a joke – it was satire – and as a writer I crave success as much as the next attention seeking author. The Telegraph gave him a column and tweeted out the first one with my handle – and I laughed. The World at One quoted one of my tweets as his – and I laughed some more. Then Brexit happened – and suddenly I lost my sense of humour.
Now of course I am not responsible for Jacob Rees-Mogg – he did it all by himself – but I do worry that in a small way ‘Jake’ might have added to the mythology of the man and so, having helped start the fire I now feel some responsibility in helping to put it out.
Let’s be frank – England remains unhealthily in thrall to class. Put a dim public schoolboy in a nice suit and send him out to shake a few hands and people still swoon. There is a more developed type of ‘English gentleman’ who is quick with the bon mots, pleasantries and firm handshakes – while all the while mentally calculating how best to stab you in the back and steal your wallet. Jacob Rees-Mogg is one such man. He might be very charming indeed – but it is a practised charm and beneath it is a steely ruthlessness and a long held determination to overthrow decades of progress.
You don’t have to look far. Jacob believes that health and safety regulations that are ‘good enough for India’ should be good enough for the UK and that high EU emission standards that reduce pollution and save lives should be rolled back. Jacob believes that women shouldn’t have abortions – even when they have been raped and believes abortion itself to be ‘morally indefensible’. The same Jacob Rees-Mogg profits from the sale of pills illegally used to induce abortions in Indonesia – but Indonesia was only briefly a British colony so perhaps it doesn’t matter.
He may have called for the Queen to be denied all scrutiny, given a tax break and gifted the finest horses and gold coaches that money can buy but he doesn’t extend the same generosity of spirit to ordinary working people. He has backed welfare cuts to the very poorest in society. He has backed £9k student fees. He wants the Human Rights Act repealed. He voted against curbs on tobacco sales and smoking bans, while simultaneously profiting from big tobacco. He voted for the bedroom tax while seeking to cut corporation tax for big firms and wants tax cuts for the very rich – people such as himself and his chums. He has voted consistently against same sex marriage and LGBT rights. He has opposed clamp downs on off shore investment firms – while benefitting from off shore investment firms. He is not in the least bit worried about ‘chlorinated chicken’ – presumably because neither he nor his 6 children will ever eat it.
And that’s before we get to the filibustering. Rees-Mogg is known as something of an expert at wrecking bills he doesn’t like. He has talked out teaching first aid in schools and attempts to scrap the bedroom tax. He filibustered bills aimed at protecting the NHS and promoting sustainable farming.
Beneath the patrician airs and the big words lies a deeply regressive, dangerously anti-progressive, arrogant and unpleasantly right wing chump of superficial intellect –concerned only for the financial benefits that an exit from the European Union will bring him and his wealthy chums. His isn’t a vision for Britain – it is a vision specifically for the very wealthy old upper class elite.
He is also apparently without irony. On the one hand he denounces ‘foreign intervention’ in British affairs from the EU while simultaneously declaring that he takes his whip from the Roman Catholic Church – in Rome.
Mogg is now being backed by UKIP and far right commentators to be the next PM. You should be very wary indeed. In any normal circumstances this regressive individual would not be an MP let alone in line for a shot at the top job – but England is drunk and Britain is unwell – and it seems that the trouble with political jokes nowadays is that they have a nasty habit of being elected.
(This piece was first published on The Pin Prick.)