It’s clear that the wet Tory establishment is not keen on Jacob Rees-Mogg. On the surface that appears to be because he holds robust views that are at odds with theirs: he’s an actual Conservative, and they are, of course, anything but. But I wonder if there’s a deeper fear there as well: do they worry that if Rees-Mogg becomes leader then the party will slip out of their grasp in the way that Labour was taken over by hard-left, Momentum commies?
The Labour establishment made only one mistake: it let Jeremy Corbyn get onto the leadership ballot. That allowed the membership, which was more left-wing than the MPs and party establishment, to finally vote in a real uncompromising leftie. It also attracted a large number of new radical-left members. Ruthless Stalinist advisors like Seamus Milne were brought on-board, who prevented Corbyn from resigning when things started to wobble. And gradually the hard-left were able to use the power they now had to take over the party machine, until finally the centrist MPs had to come on board, saying that really they loved Jeremy all along.
Seeing as Corbyn is doing much better in the polls than drippy Ed Milliband, things are unlikely to change back very soon, and most likely the Commies will continue to replace the Blairites and Brownites over the next few years.
All that took was one thing: letting Jeremy Corbyn onto the ballot. In fact, that was a self-inflicted wound, because various MPs who didn’t support Corbyn, like Frank Field, voted for him to go onto the ballot because they thought Labour needed a proper debate about politics, and they thought that that would see off the left for good. (When Corbyn was elected leader, it looked like Labour had shot itself through the foot. It now looks like what actually happened was that New Labour shot itself through the heart.)
So I suspect the Tory establishment think that at all costs Rees-Mogg must be kept off a leadership ballot, because there’s a good chance he would win: he constantly tops the polls among party members for preferred leader. You see how the thinking would go after that. He’ll appoint a dry Cabinet. The likes of Gove and Johnson would be given a freer rein. Maybe even John Redwood would come into cabinet. All the disgruntled right-wingers who’ve quit the party in recent decades would come flocking back, including all the racists. We’d have a proper Brexit. The new members would get involved in choosing more right-wing candidates in local constituencies, which the central office would now be okay with. Some centrist MPs and councillors would quit the party, and The Guardian and the BBC will big up their huffy resignation letters. Anna Soubry, having left the party, will do wall-to-wall TV intervews telling the BBC and CNN how bad the Toris are under Rees-Mogg. And so the Tories would lose voters from the middle as they come to be seen as another bunch of UKIP-style golf-club bores, and Jeremy Corbyn will win the election (which the Tory establishment will think is a horrible outcome, but not quite as horrible as Rees-Mogg winning the election).
However, such fears are a bit overblown. True, Anna Soubry probably would quit, but that’s a good thing. Disgruntled right-wingers may come back into the fold, but that’s a good thing as long for the Tories (as long as overt racists are kicked out) – the Tories need those people back voting for them, and working for them.
But I can’t see Rees-Mogg upturning the Conservative establishment. Maggie Thatcher couldn’t do it, she remained a outlier for her entire career despite being PM for years, so I doubt Rees-Mogg could either (although I hope he can). And although there’s a lot of energy on the right at the moment, there’s nothing like Momentum, with its quasi-religious fervour, and its Stalinist-style fanaticism. Plus the wider establishment, like the BBC, the civil service and the Universities are virulently anti-right, and they have a vice-like grip on power, and they’ll harry the Conservatives under Rees-Mogg. So the party would go right to some degree, but not to any great extent. And eventually the squishy MPs will kill off Rees-Mogg once he makes a mistake.
But it should be good while it lasts, as long the Establishment fails to prevent him getting onto the leadership ballot paper.
Hector Drummond is a former University lecturer turned author. His first novel, The Biscuit Factory Vol. I: Days of Wine and Cheese, a campus satire, is out now. He blogs at http://hectordrummond.com, and tweets at https://twitter.com/hector_drummond