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Understanding #Moggmentum: the hollow cult of Jacob Rees-Mogg

What is behind the social media stardom of parliament’s most cartoonish toff?

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg in 2012. And the nation swooned.

It’s the longest word ever to be used in the Commons (meaning: to find something worthless, origin: Latin bantz at Eton) and it brought the MP for North East Somerset a taste of viral fame he has increasingly come to enjoy since being elected in 2010.

The clip is just one of many Rees-Mogg moments that have been fondly giffed and shared online a disproportionate amount for a right-wing Tory MP. His Instagram, which he updates with images of his posh pursuits, has a following of over 32,000.

The story of his sixth son being born, and named “Sixtus”, reached readers far beyond those with a niche political interest last week when it was covered by most mainstream papers. The Guardian called him a “Tory sex machine”, while the Mirror ran a handy guide to the eccentric names he’s given his brood.

He first came to public attention in 1997, when he ran unsuccessfully in the Labour stronghold of Central Fife – and famously campaigned with his former nanny. Driving around in a Mercedes. “A Bentley would be most unsuitable for canvassing,” he later informed the Spectator.

Now the 48-year-old MP has a “grassroots” movement called #Moggmentum behind him, a hashtag that trends every time he speaks in the Commons or posts a new picture of himself on the campaign trail. It celebrates Rees-Mogg with memes and gifs, much like Ed Miliband’s unlikely fan club in 2015, the Milifandom.


Moggmentum is supposed to be a response to Labour campaigners’ superior social media presence. It even calls for Rees-Mogg to be Tory leader. A gently jokey campaign called Ready for Mogg is gathering signatures from those who wish to see Rees-Mogg as Prime Minister. Its founder, Sam Frost, explained his appeal to the Daily Politics: “He’s a little bit eccentric; he doesn’t take himself so seriously.” The campaign has over 12,000 signatures.


Often described as a character out of a PG Wodehouse novel or from a bygone era, the ever suited, top-to-toe tweeded, bespectacled politician makes a virtue of his plummy accent and toffish ways.

When asked in a BBC documentary called Posh and Posher about privilege in politics, he famously described himself as a “man of the people – vox populi, vox dei”.

Rees-Mogg is an Old Etonian, Oxford-educated, the son of a former Times editor and peer, and part of an old established Somerset family. Yet the public does seem to be overlooking his upper-class credentials and finding ways to connect with him, particularly through his relationship with his children (his eldest son wears a matching double-breasted suit as they campaign together).

 

We shall have to take our business elsewhere.

A post shared by Jacob Rees-Mogg (@jacob_rees_mogg) on


“There is a surprising amount of deference in some parts of North East Somerset to the fact that he and his family have been around for generations,” says local Labour councillor and charity worker Robin Moss, who ran against Rees-Mogg in the most recent election. “And there’s quite a few people who like him because he’s independent, and different – certainly not a clone MP. His son goes round with him as a sort of mini-me, wearing tweed . . .  he’s a good dad in that sense, who involves his children.”

Rees-Mogg is an ardent Brexiteer and rebel, and is often wheeled out by the broadcasters for damning critiques of his own party and government. This outspokenness is part of his appeal – and gives him a media platform.

“He’s become something of a social media celebrity, and he’s been on Question Time and he’s not fazed at all,” says a fellow Tory MP. “It appears that the public like him.”


“There’s certainly an element of name recognition,” adds Moss. “He does cultivate the loveable British eccentric . . . but would you seriously want Bertie Wooster representing you in parliament?”

Conservative MPs feel the same. Although he is thought to be well-mannered and has no enemies, some believe he appears to be a backward Tory who gives off the wrong impression of the party. Others are simply unsure of what he stands for.

Although there is a gently satirical movement to propel him to leadership, this isn’t being “taken seriously at the moment – but who knows?” I hear from one Tory MP. “He does appear, in terms of his lifestyle, to be out-of-step with the majority of public opinion. Becoming leader requires other attributes which, at the moment, he doesn’t show much in the way of developing.”


Facebook: Reem memes with a right wing theme.

There is a sense on all sides, however, that Rees-Mogg’s new-found social media fame is no accident. He wants a degree of power; he is running to be the new Treasury select committee chair, after all. “I don’t think the personality cult thing’s by chance,” a colleague tells me. “He has an honest ambition. This isn’t something new; he’s been a young fogey since he was born. We happen to live in an age where people who appear to be different [are popular]. It’s partly self-propelled.”

Although Moss, his Somerset rival, also believes Rees-Mogg “plays up to the MP for the Eighteenth Century” image, he did not attack this during the campaign. “Dan Morris [the former Labour MP who lost to Rees-Mogg] made the mistake in 2010, and our candidate in 2015, of being personal,” he says. This involved using “some slightly odd photos, concentrating on the nanny”, and it backfired. “It really gets up people’s noses, understandably. Don’t do the personal . . . It doesn’t work and it’s not right.”

Indeed, in the 2008 Crewe and Nantwich by-election – when Labour activists attempted to toff-shame the Tory candidate Edward Timpson by chasing him around in top hats – the campaign ended in defeat. 


Facebook: Reem memes with a right wing theme.

Like other privileged candidates before him (Nigel Farage comes to mind), Rees-Mogg is able to appear an “anti-establishment” outsider, despite his background. “He was never part of the Cameroon circle” despite being an Old Etonian, says a Tory MP. “[He] didn’t fit in with their world view.”

Read more: Life after Milifandom – and why Ed isn’t to blame if I fail my Russian history AS-level

Rees-Mogg’s voting record, and which bills he chooses to filibuster, undermine his persona as a loveable toff. He voted against same-sex marriage, has talked out bills to scrap the bedroom tax, teach first aid in schools, and others, voiced support for Donald Trump, and called for his party to collaborate with Ukip.

If he wishes to win over his fellow MPs, these views may cause him problems on both sides of the House. “My guess is distance must provide a bit of soft focus. Scrutiny and focus would not do him any favours,” says Moss, who made his campaign against him “all about how he voted and how he filibustered – things like the rape clause in the benefits legislation”.

But in a world with Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary and Donald Trump as US President, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s personality cult may yet avoid the public’s floccinaucinihilipilification.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.