The Greasy Pole column from the June 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
A few weeks ago Nadine Dorries, obsessively thespian Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, sneered that David Cameron and George Osborne are two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk. This was aimed to hit Cameron where it should hurt – his determined campaign to convince us that being an Old Etonian heir to a posh-boy family fortune need not get in the way of his being sympathetic about the emergencies of survival confronting what he and his clique condescend to call decent, hard-working people and their families. And as for what it costs to get some milk onto those stricken meal tables – well, he knows all about that from his regular shopping trips to Chipping Norton with his intimidatingly aristocratic and solvent wife. It would probably be comforting to Cameron in promoting this self-image if he led a party churning out that same cant. But many Tories out there in the wide world insist on having other ideas: to be governed by harshly nostalgic concepts about society and who should represent them in Parliament.
The Honourable Jacob William Rees-Mogg is undoubtedly posh but says he does not regret it. He is the son of Baron Rees-Mogg whose time in career journalism peaked with his editorship during 1967 to 1981 of The Times, when he was a regular source of material for Private Eye. Jacob, who was gratifyingly precocious, wrote his first letter to the Financial Times when he was twelve and went first to Eton and then Oxford before spending 15 years in the City in his firm called Capital Management. It was unsurprising that he should have ambitions about getting into Parliament.
This required him to survive an SAS-like training by first standing in the kind of Labour seats where Tories had become the rarest of species. His first such venture was in 1997 in Fife Central, which could be characterised by the fact that it had been the last constituency to elect a Communist Party MP – in 1935 and 1945 – and where unemployment stood at 9 percent. His campaign, feeble as it was, could not have been helped by his canvassing with his nanny (who had, he said, come to Eton “ . . . to change my sheets every week and bring me anything I needed”) and his unwavering accent (“. . . whatever I happened to be speaking about the number of votes in my favour dropped as soon as I opened my mouth”). As for the result, ‘obliterated’ would be a more useful word than ‘defeated’ and he hung on to his deposit by a whisker. He was given another chance at The Wrekin – a key seat – in 2001 where the outcome was close enough to give him some optimism about his future in politics.
This optimism seemed to have been justified in May 2006 when he was selected by the Tories in North-East Somerset as their candidate for the next election. The fact that his sister Annunziata was selected soon afterwards as the candidate for the adjoining Somerton and Frome might have made for cosy family electioneering except that the effect was seen by those closer to the scene as rather less comfortable for Cameron. One correspondent likened the selections as “a kick in the cobblers … for Cameron’s new-look Tories”. After Rees-Mogg had compared pupils of state schools to “potted plants”, a friend admitted that he was “not an expert media performer”. That same year he strayed into the field of economics with his analysis that it was “…about time we had a recession”. The remark was not apparently based on any world-wide assessment but on the assumption that it would not affect his gold stocks. In March 2009 he was again instructing us on economics and finance when he sent round his constituency a newsletter mentioning the “crashing pound” and “soaring unemployment”, The newsletter’s content was revealed to have been substantially lifted unacknowledged from an article in the Sun – of all newspapers – by Trevor Kavanagh, the Associate Editor.
Another Rees-Mogg effort at leafleting, ironically entitled Honesty On The Economy, contained a picture of him as the candidate talking to “a lady in Midsomer Norton”. The implications of that title were intriguing because that “lady”, assumed to be a constituent, was in fact an employee in his London office, allowed to make a 206-mile round journey to take part in that feeble deception. Another photograph probably intended to prove his credentials as a devoted countryman tackling a farmyard stile (in a smart city suit) looked as if he had been caught out urinating on the obstruction rather than climbing over it. Considering Rees Mogg’s obdurate tendency to attract such damagingly negative publicity it was little wonder that during the 2010 election – he won the seat in North-East Somerset by 4914 votes – The Times saw him as threatening to turn out as “David Cameron’s worst nightmare”.
Well, in his public appearances Cameron does now convey the impression, too often for his own reassurance, of being under a degree of stress typical of a political leader striving to dress up his party image – the presentation of outworn, discredited policies – as the offspring of fresh and effective thinking. This dismal aspect of managing our lives is part of what is called politics, a politics in which there is also Rees Mogg, known as “a toff beyond caricature”, struggling to assert his obsolete style of the privileges of capitalism against those already in operation in Westminster. A clash between these two methods is not due to any divergence of principles, for they are solidly together in support of this cruel, stagnant society. Anyone concerned with a valid remedy for progress must stand aside, and move on from this sterile squabble in which our lot is to be kicked where it most hurts.