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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Age of the young fogey

The Independent from a few days ago carries a fascinating and very enjoyable profile of everybody's favourite Tory MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Jacob is endearingly honest and forthright in his views, as well as very posh, qualities that have even spawned a parody twitter account and a viral video from a previous profile. Details of both can be found here.

Characteristically, the MP embraces his poshness:

Quentin Letts called him the "Hon Member for the Early 20th Century" who was "41 going on 90", while Ann Treneman noted that if there was "ever anyone who personifies the words 'out of touch', it may be The Mogg".

But three years on – and in Westminster at least – perceptions of Rees-Mogg, 43, are changing.

He was recently described by a Tory colleague as a "mini Boris" – charismatic despite being posh and an able politician who could explain complex arguments simply and intelligently – without recourse to vacuous sound bites.

He has become a frequent guest on programmes such as Newsnight where he has rather effectively defended the Government on tricky subjects such as benefit reform and rejecting statutory regulation of the press.

So are his appearances now sanctioned? "I think they're no longer de-sanctioned," he smiles. His agent, Margaret, sitting next to him, adds pointedly: "That's not as funny as you might think."

Rees-Mogg tries to explain with deliberate understatement: "I think in the early days they'd probably have been happier if I didn't do it – but I don't get the feeling now."

When you spend time with Rees-Mogg – watching him talk to constituents about mundane subjects like child benefit, parking restrictions and planning disputes – you wonder whether his fogeyish media image is a bit affected.

Yes, he has old-fashioned mannerisms – but nothing like the pantomime portrayal of him. He is also undeniably clever. Before going into politics he set up and ran his own highly successful investment company – not the mark of an upper-class bumbler. So is it a bit put on?

He laughs. "I've got a nasty feeling it's the truth. Reading my father's obituaries he had exactly the same image when he was my age. Everyone thought he was a young fogey. It's probably something to do with the Somerset air."

He then says something interesting and also rather revealing. "I think Boris has the answer to it. Boris makes no pretence about being anything other than he is. I've always been very suspicious of politicians who try to be 'men of the people' because actually it's a rather condescending view of the world. Everyone has their own individual or different experiences and you cannot, as a politician, have lived the life that anybody else has lived. "You can't say, I understand how millions of people live their lives because of how I've grown up."

It is little wonder that Jacob Rees Mogg is being tipped for promotion, even though he appears to have little ambition in that direction.
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