How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
Leslie Odom Jr., playing the role of Aaron Burr, poses this question about Alexander Hamilton at the start of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical phenomenon, but a similar question could be asked of British member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg:
How does a 48-year-old Eton-educated, traditionalist, monarchy-supporting, devout Catholic, social conservative, who drops words such as “floccinaucinihilipilification” into parliamentary debates with ease and has been called the “Honourable Member for the 18th century,” inspire a grassroots campaign, fueled by young Brits, to make him prime minister?
Mr. Rees-Mogg’s journey to Parliament wasn’t easy. In 2010, he won the North East Somerset seat after two failures. Even after this election, it seemed Rees-Mogg would be confined to a marginal role in the Conservative party. Writing for National Review, Will Collier noted that “as recently as a year ago, his very public role as one of the leading Conservative agitators favoring Brexit had dimmed his political prospects.”
But the success of the pro-Brexit campaign changed Rees-Mogg’s political fortunes. His “dogged campaigning and calm, erudite support of British independence from the EU bureaucracy” have granted the “anachronistic MP national fame and respectful hearings in the decidedly modern arenas of television and social media.”
He has tens of thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter, and posts about his children are especially popular. His fans delighted at recently posted photos of his newborn son, Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher Rees-Mogg. The sixth child of Rees-Mogg, Sixtus’s siblings boast equally magnificent names: Peter Theodore Alphege, Mary Anne Charlotte Emma, Thomas Wentworth Somerset Dunstan, Anselm Charles Fitzwilliam and Alfred Wulfric Leyson Pius Rees-Mogg.
Rees-Mogg is a passionate and eloquent defender of traditional British institutions on the floor of the House of Commons. In 2011, for example, he argued for a well-funded monarchy:
We are a great nation, a noble nation, and a nation that has had power across the globe in the past. We have one of the finest histories of any country in the world. When I see the coronation coach being pulled through the streets of London, I want to see it being pulled by the finest horses that money can buy and I want to see it gilded with the finest gold that can be bought.
Despite not wanting to become prime minister, Rees-Mogg has inspired a wave of “Moggmentum,” grassroots efforts encouraging his candidacy and trying to send him to 10 Downing Street. These efforts seem to be bearing fruit. Betting markets place Rees-Mogg in second place to take Theresa May’s position, only behind fellow Conservative David Davis. While his support in polls lags behind the optimism of betting markets, his current popularity was inconceivable just over a year ago, and it’s increasing.
What is Rees-Mogg’s appeal, especially to young voters?
One young writer pointed to his politeness, highlighting an appearance on the show Have I Got News For You, in which Rees-Mogg defended Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, despite disagreeing with him on the subject at hand. He’s also not out of touch: He knows “the cost of a pint of milk and a first-class stamp.” He admires tradition, but he’s not stuffy or aloof; rather, he possesses “a certain swagger about him despite being rather mild mannered and humble.”
“He believes unashamedly in the kind of honest-to-goodness conservatism — minimal state interference, free enterprise, personal liberty within a framework of tradition, self-discipline and family values, low taxes — that the party’s upper echelons have scarcely dared advocate since the Thatcher era,” writes James Delingpole in The Spectator. Furthermore, Delingpole speculates his popularity among youth is rooted in his “extraordinary authenticity.”
The editors of the popular Facebook page, Middle Class Memes for Rees-Moggian Teens, have a unique vantage point from which to judge Rees-Mogg’s popularity among young Conservatives. In an e-mail to National Review, a representative said they “think many young Conservatives are the new wave of patriots in the UK, so when someone (a politician) speaks highly of the UK, they gain the following and respects of these new patriots.”
The group also doesn’t attribute his popularity to his eccentric image alone. “If it was just his eccentric image,” the representative wrote, “I don’t think ‘Moggmentum’ would be as big as it is.” Still, his personality helps. Rees-Mogg is a “breath of fresh air from our current politicians who have the charisma of an old, damp rag.”
The co-founders of the Ready for Rees-Mogg campaign, Anne Sutherland and Sam Frost, are trying to channel the current “Moggmentum” into a viable push for leadership of the Conservative party. Their petition urging Rees-Mogg to run for leadership of the Tories has garnered over 22,000 signatures in about two months, and that growth has “begun to pick up again,” said Frost in an interview with National Review.
Both of them are confident that the excitement surrounding Mogg is not a passing fad. Frost pointed out that this type of energy is rare among Conservatives, and it’s rendered even more peculiar because it’s affecting young and old alike. Besides his personality, Sutherland thinks his appeal stems from his being “true to conservative principles.” He offers straight, intelligent answers to difficult questions, but also doesn’t take himself seriously all the time.
For Rees-Mogg to become the Conservative party leader, he would have to earn the support of his fellow MPs. Conservative party leadership elections have two parts. First, if more than two candidates are nominated for the position, Conservative MPs vote and narrow down the available choices to two options. Second, the Conservative party membership votes on the top two candidates, and whoever receives a majority becomes the new leader.
Frost is confident that Rees-Mogg would perform well among the broader Conservative membership. “The conservative member base is very right leaning, very traditionally conservative,” he said.
Regardless of what happens, “Moggmentum” has revealed that many young Brits have an appetite for traditional conservative values, even as others prefer the far-left ethos of Jeremy Corbyn. Rees-Mogg is the antithesis of Corbyn, and if the former was to become Conservative leader, the alternative visions of both parties would be starkly personified by the two men.
— Jeff Cimmino is an editorial intern at National Review.