Jacob Rees-Mogg is one of the United Kingdom’s most popular and effective politicians. He is a Conservative Member of Parliament, chairman of the eurosceptic European Research Group, and newly appointed Leader of the House of Commons. He is known for his double-breasted suits, upper class idiosyncrasies, and impeccable command of the English language. His father was a British peer, but he is independently wealthy, with a background in investment banking. He is outspoken and fearless in expressing his views, making him one of the most compelling figures in British politics.
He is staunchly pro-life, devoutly Roman Catholic, and a father of six, who never shies away from expressing his total respect for the sanctity of human life, his belief the sacramental nature of traditional marriage or his unwavering acceptance of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Look him up on YouTube and watch how deftly he answers those gotcha questions that the mainstream liberal media are so fond of. Of course, when a politician is so forthright and rationally coherent with his answers, gotcha questions don’t work.
There isn’t another politician like him.
My wife and I met Jacob Rees-Mogg at a recent political event in London, and enjoyed a brief conversation with him as he was departing with his son, Peter. He had been there to support Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, describing Johnson as the only politician in the country with the undefinable star quality to unite the country and deliver Brexit at last (with the possible exception, I might add, of Rees-Mogg himself, who didn’t run for leadership). Boris Johnson certainly has ample charisma, but despite his Catholic baptism and Anglican confirmation, is neither a committed Christian nor pro-life.
I asked Rees-Mogg about issues of human life under a Boris Johnson-led government. He responded by making clear that issues of human life are extremely important to him but added that the current mood in the country is not right for a political discussion of abortion. He said that the imminent battle is over euthanasia, and that he will do everything in his power to prevent the legalization of euthanasia in the UK. My takeaway from this was that a Boris Johnson government is significantly more appealing with Jacob Rees-Mogg in cabinet.
Rees-Mogg understands how to play politics. He knows when and where his considerable political influence and skill will be effective and when and where they won’t. But because he is openly steadfast in his personal moral and religious convictions, no one can, for example, accuse him of having a hidden agenda – a frequent charge made of Conservative politicians in Canada. Canadian pro-life politicians and pro-life activists alike could learn a lot from Rees-Mogg. He sacrifices neither his pro-life convictions nor his political strategy; he maintains both in the extreme. Canadian politicians are almost universally reluctant to express their pro-life, pro-family, or religious views, which makes them come across as unconfident and evasive, opening the door to gotcha questions and the tiresome hidden agenda game. As a result, Canadian pro-life activists are often frustrated with politicians for what appears to be continual ground-shifting and shying away from the most important of issues. What’s happening is that the politicians are failing to differentiate their personal convictions from their immediate political objectives, and the pro-lifers are failing to appreciate that politics requires getting things done with support from a plurality of individuals with diverse opinions, all under the hostile scrutiny of the media. Politics is often messy and almost never a zero-sum game.
Rees-Mogg balances these two elements of being a politician with the utmost integrity. He is rock solid in his pro-life, pro-family beliefs and his voting record reflects this. But he recognizes that political strategy, by its very nature, cannot consist merely of futile attempts to legislate personal convictions. Such attempts would only result in destroying his political capital and squandering his valuable influence in parliament. Politics is better viewed as pushing things in a certain direction than getting one’s own unsullied way all the time. But although his political approach is distinct from his personal beliefs, this doesn’t mean that his personal beliefs don’t inform his political efforts. It means he will be strategic (in a good way) in his parliamentary activities. Parliamentary politics is a particular mechanism with its own particular limitations designed to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a few. As a politician there’s little to be gained by pushing for legislation of your personal beliefs if it accomplishes nothing. As a man, however, there is everything to be gained by defending your beliefs even if you convince no one.
He may be correct that the mood isn’t right for a discussion of abortion. Not in the United Kingdom or in Canada. And if so, the challenge is to change the public mood. But that isn’t the job of the politicians. It’s our job. It’s up to citizens to change the mood, so that politicians can reflect that in policy and legislation. It appears, however, that many Canadian pro-life politicians think the mood isn’t right for them even to express their views about abortion. And that isn’t the same as saying the mood isn’t right to discuss abortion; it’s the same as saying the mood isn’t right to express personal views. If that’s the case in a democratic country like Canada, something has gone seriously wrong.
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appeal goes well beyond the pro-life movement. Imagine that – a brazenly pro-life politician with support from people on both sides of the abortion debate. How does he accomplish this? There’s no ingenious formula, he simply tells the truth. He thoughtfully and completely answers every question put to him, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. And he does it often. He has a podcast, writes a regular column, hosts a fortnightly radio show, and gives frequent television interviews. Last February, like some pop star, he sold out a London theatre with a capacity of nearly 3000 to discuss Brexit, conservatism, and Catholicism. He wasn’t even a cabinet minister then. It was unprecedented.
What people can’t resist is his authenticity. Canada needs a Jacob Rees-Mogg or two.
Andrew Mahon is a Canadian-British writer based in London.