Jacob Rees-Mogg. Posh, plummy, immensely articulate, unfailingly polite and always impeccably dressed, the backbench MP has become the unlikely favourite of a growing number of supporters, to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party. He has been nicknamed “The MP for the nineteenth century” on account of the way he dresses and speaks. And yesterday, in an interview with Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on “Good Morning Britain” he lived up to that nickname with what are being denounced as horrendously outdated views – namely, that he accepts the teachings of the Catholic Church which says that gay marriage is a sin, and that abortion is morally indefensible, including in circumstances such as following rape.
The thought that somebody with such views could ever be considered a leadership candidate, has provoked outrage. This despite the fact that he made it abundantly clear in the interview that even in the unlikely event of him later becoming leader of the party, his views would have no impact on current legislation due to the fact that the underlying issues are not party-political; they are decided by free votes in Parliament and therefore his individual vote carries no more weight than those of the other 649 MPs.
The real reason for the outrage, of course, is that many people are shocked to hear a politician calmly, clearly defending views that they believe to be abhorrent.
In our current political and social climate, in which people are constantly shamed into apologising for unguarded comments which don’t accord with the established mainstream view, or even hounded out of their jobs by the weight of public outrage, there is a tendency for those who disagree with the mainstream to simply keep their opinions to themselves. The result is a belief that once a matter such as gay marriage or abortion on demand has been passed into law, the matter is decided and no further debate is required.
The truth, of course, is that those who oppose gay marriage or abortion do not simply change their minds or accept that their views are wrong, once these issues are decided by Parliament. Opposition to either of these issues tends to reside in a deep-seated belief, either religious or moral, which is impossible to simply set aside for the sake of convenience.
And so it is that to many of his supporters, the sight of Rees-Mogg calmly and clearly stating his views, explaining the basis for them and refusing to be shamed into moderating them, is something to cheer about. We may or may not agree with him – but oh, how we admire him for sticking up for his beliefs. And how rare it is to see a politician secure enough in his beliefs to give a straight answer to a difficult question – contrast Rees-Mogg’s response to the way Tim Farron handled the same set of questions a few months back, and you have a perfect lesson in how and how not to handle questions on religion.
Because no matter what the liberal press would like us to believe, the truth is what most of the British public wish their leaders to display, is a backbone. And whereas Theresa May in recent months has appeared to bend and twist in whichever direction her advisers or Jeremy Corbyn point her, Rees-Mogg has just proven that his is forged of solid steel.
To many people, too, the issue of abortion in particular is anything but settled, and there will be some who will be hoping that Rees-Mogg’s comments may open up a wider debate on the issue. His statement that abortion is morally indefensible even in the case of rape by a family member, while shocking to the ears, is actually more consistent than were he to have said that it is acceptable in this case. For if you believe, as he does, that life begins at the point of conception, then how can you justify the argument that a child conceived out of rape should forfeit the right to life? No matter the circumstances of conception, the child that is conceived will be equally innocent and should have the same right to life regardless. It is very hard to make the argument that personal distress to the mother should trump the right to life.
The argument of many feminists in favour of abortion on demand is “My body, my choice”. This argument is quite frankly abhorrent. Abortion is not the removal of some unwanted body fat, or a tumour, a tattoo or an unsightly scar. It is the removal of an embryo which, left alone, would grow into a child. It is not simply “the mother’s body”. It is a separate life within the mother’s body. There are many strong arguments in favour of a woman being allowed to choose whether to continue a pregnancy or to terminate it, but for those who support the right to choose, it should be clear about what it is they are choosing. No matter how far women’s rights may progress, and no matter how much feminists may seek to trivialise abortion, the emotional and psychological impact of the abortion itself is often underestimated, and many women, despite their strong beliefs in their right to choose, still go on to regret that choice.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, despite his denials, clearly has ambitions for high office. In his situation, to go on television and not only to admit to such strong, controversial beliefs, but to defend them, is seen by many as political suicide. But this is short-sighted. As he explained towards the end of the interview, as a Conservative MP he has a bit more freedom to express such views than Tim Farron, as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, did. Conservatives as a whole are more open to discussion of religious differences, than Liberals, and his views are not actually that shocking to many Conservatives. The public’s memories are short-lived, but 128 Conservative MPs actually voted against gay marriage, whereas only 117 supported it. The fact that the bill was passed was due to the much larger proportion of MPs from other parties who supported it.
The majority of Rees-Mogg’s supporters were already well aware of his views, and either agree with him, or disagree but respect his right to hold them. Those who were unaware of his views, or who are shocked by them, are likely not Tory supporters to begin with and therefore would never have voted for him in the first place. Despite how the liberal press may try to spin this, and taking into account the fact that he is, and will always be, an outsider in the party leadership race, the interview will have done his chances no harm whatsoever.