Despite Boris Johnson’s dismal record on key social issues there can be little doubt that his election as leader of the British Conservative Party, and the consequent legal formality of his appointment as prime minister by Queen Elizabeth, constitutes a major step forward for world politics. In most ways he is the most conservative politician to hold his office in more than two decades, his election and appointment delivering a stinging defeat to Europe’s left-wing established powers and constituting his own country’s sharpest positive turn since Margaret Thatcher became prime minister exactly forty years ago.
But while such facts are well known to politically aware Americans, the character of the devoutly Catholic and more eminently conservative British politician who has been appointed by Johnson to high office as Leader of the House of Commons and as Lord President of the Council is not—though the man in question, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is as much a political sensation in his country as Donald Trump is in ours.
Born in 1969, Rees-Mogg is of stereotypical English upper middle class lineage and education. His father, William Rees-Mogg, edited The Times for fourteen years, served as Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain for nine and received a non-hereditary life peerage as a baron. He was also of the first generation of the family to be raised as a Catholic, thanks to his Irish-American mother. Before his election to parliament in 2001 Jacob Rees-Mogg studied at Eton and at Oxford and spent two years working in finance.
As a public figure Rees-Mogg honestly embraces his upper class status, reminding one of the scene in Gladiator in which Derek Jacobi’s Gracchus states that “I do not claim to be a man of the people but I do try to be a man for the people.” He has never been seen in public without a tie, and usually wears either a dark, double-breasted suit or tweeds. He maintains the tradition of black tie dinners whenever he has guests. He responded to rumors that he had campaigned driving his Bentley by saying that a Bentley is not a car for campaigning so he had driven a Mercedes instead. He speaks highly of his former nanny, who now performs that job for his own children, and has incurred the ire of the left because, when asked about the matter, said that he has never needed to change his children’s diapers. Britain’s public is divided between those who love him for his honest refusal to engage in plebian pretense and those who attack him on the basis of their own class hatred.
Rees-Mogg is just as unashamedly Catholic and conservative. He has six children, prays the rosary frequently and attends the Tridentine Mass (which his father had also favored, signing a petition to Pope Paul VI for its continued use alongside the reformed liturgy). When leaders of the Conservative Party were attempting to get its members of parliament to support David Cameron’s introduction of “gay marriage” Rees-Mogg stated that where moral issues are concerned he takes his lead from the Holy See. One of his children is named after Saint Alephege of Canterbury, whom Rees-Mogg sees as model of opposition to unjustly high taxation. Another is named for the staunchly royalist Earl of Stafford, who was beheaded by seventeenth century Puritans and was an ancestor of his wife. Asked what he thought about being called “the member of parliament for the early twentieth century” he said he doesn’t understand why the term is applied to him since “the twentieth century is so modern” and that he should be called “the member for the early eighteenth century.”
Some clarification is, however, needed in regard to one point of Rees-Mogg’s record. He was for a time a member of the Ethics Committee of London’s Catholic hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth, in which capacity he opposed the hospital’s performance of abortions and of “sex change” surgery. When Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor intervened to halt such practices he demanded that hospital authorities (including Rees-Mogg) resign en masse regardless of the positions they had taken on the issue. Much online coverage of this event gives the erroneous impression the Rees-Mogg was among those who supported violations of Catholic morality.
It only remains to add that Rees-Mogg’s attitudes towards American politics are heartening. While former prime minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron favored Barack Obama in the 2012 election Rees-Mogg publically expressed his preference for Mitt Romney. Today, though holding responsible reservations about our current president, he consistently and vocally defends Donald Trump and his broad agenda against the incessant attacks and hatred of the left. His appointment to high office is not, therefore, good news only for his own country but gives us, as Americans, a friend in the highest political echelons of our closest foreign ally.
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