The Old Etonian Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, topped a poll run by ConservativeHome this week for future Conservative Party leaders. Over recent months Mogg has gathered a following on social media amongst young activists seeking to combat the rise of Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of socialism. ConHome, however, is a “safe seat” of Tory opinion; the real test for Mogg, should he run for office, is whether he can appeal to the rest of the UK.
The United States recently elected a multibillionaire on a tide of populist resentment, but the UK is far more scathing towards privilege. Richard Leonard, who is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Kezia Dugdale as the leader of Scottish Labour, has already seen his credibility questioned because of his privately-educated background. Similarly, when Theresa May became leader of the Conservative Party, her appeal lay in her self-proclaimed roots in “Middle England” – a deliberate contrast to David Cameron’s “Posh Boy” image.
The sad truth is that the UK still cares far more about where people are from, rather than where they are going. Many will quickly point to Rees-Mogg’s privileged background as a liability. However, this doesn’t seem to affect his current following. One supporter recently tweeted: ‘I’m young-ish, was born on council estate and would vote @Jacob_Rees_Mogg every single time. #Mogg4PM’.
Of course, Rees-Mogg’s unequivocal support for Brexit has given him both ardent supporters and detractors, and his particularly traditionalist beliefs will also divide the country. But in persuading the rest of us, one would hope that, as Martin Luther King once dreamed, he will be judged according to his character, rather than his appearance.