Can the UK's Jacob Rees-Mogg Put the Conservatives Back on Track?
What has happened in British politics in the last year has to be one of the most shocking turnarounds in history. After Brexit, the Tories seemed unstoppable, while Labour with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm seemed close to falling apart — some even predicted the end of the party. Despite an absolutely horrendous campaign by the Conservatives for the June election, they still seemed confident that they could easily get the majority again and even increase their lead.
Then June 8 came around and changed everything. The Tories lost 13 seats and had to negotiate a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party to regain the majority in Parliament, while Corbyn’s Labour gained 30 seats and suddenly saw itself as the winner of the election. Now, a few weeks later, Labour is leading all polls, some even by up to eight percentage points, while Theresa May is, as George Osborne bluntly proclaimed already during election night, a “dead woman walking.” Months after Labour seemed close to their end, the Tories now need to react quickly.
There is good news, though, as in the last few weeks a more than peculiar phenomenon has gained steam: the "Moggmentum." This social media trend with the objective of getting Jacob Rees-Mogg, North East Somerset’s MP, to Downing Street, has started only recently, but garnered a lot of attraction. Rees-Mogg’s odds of becoming the next leader of the Conservatives stood at 50/1 on July 1, now they are at 10/1, only bested by Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond (both 6/1), and David Davis, the current favorite (3/1). The ascendance of this until recently relatively unknown MP shows that there’s at least some hope for the Tories.
Rees-Mogg is basically the exact opposite of what the current Tory leadership is all about. While Theresa May has talked all along about government intervention into the economy with great industrial plans and a rejection of “untrammeled free markets” and “the cult of selfish individualism” — both written in this year’s Conservative election manifesto — Rees-Mogg has stood up for a mix of traditional conservatism and libertarianism, believing in “minimal state interference, free enterprise, personal liberty within a framework of tradition, self-discipline and family values, low taxes.”
While most Tories have shifted more and more to the Left, fearing that Jeremy Corbyn will pick them apart as evil neoliberals, Rees-Mogg has stayed disciplined and by that has become the antithesis of the British Chavista.
But most importantly, compared to other Tories like May and Hammond, he has been consistent and consequent on Brexit. As it says on his website, he has “always been deeply sceptical about the European Union and glad that the nation has voted to leave.” Instead of talking about a “soft” Brexit that May has suddenly been looking for, Rees-Mogg has clearly stated what he wants: leaving the EU as was voted for. For him, Brexit was “a wonderful liberation for the country.”
Instead of being bullied by the European Union and threatened by the populists of the continent — think Guy Verhofstadt, not Marine Le Pen here — who just want to punish the UK for “voting against Europe” (as the Eurocrats say), Rees-Mogg would take a clear cut if needed. Asked if Great Britain could just walk away without an agreement with the EU, he simply answered: “Of course we could, of course we could!”
And of course they could! As libertarians have said constantly since Brexit, unilateral free trade could be the solution. Combine that with swift free trade agreements with major allies — think the US, Australia, Canada — and you would quickly have a Britain better prepared for globalization than the protectionist EU. This is not to say that no deal with the EU would be the best option — not at all, considering countries like Germany are still extremely important trade partners. Nonetheless, the extreme panicking of Remainers about a complete break is unjustified.
In reality, Brexit could be the starting point for a Great Britain returning back to the global stage, a beacon of liberty and free markets as it has been known for centuries — and as it was planned by top Brexiteers like Daniel Hannan (who, by the way, was rejected to stand for a seat in the recent election — by the Tory HQ). But not with Theresa May, not with Phil Hammond. Maybe with David Davis, maybe with Boris Johnson (who is known in libertarian circles for having read LewRockwell.com for years while being editor of The Spectator).
But why not just take the best guy available? It could be Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Adapted from an article published by the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna.
Kai Weiss is studying International Relations and Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Regensburg, Germany. He works for the Austrian Economics Center and the Hayek Institute.