“As regards testing, one has to be reasonable,” droned the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, otherwise known as the member for the seventeenth century. “Instead of this endless carping, with people saying it is difficult to get them, we should be celebrating this phenomenal success of the British nation in getting up to a quarter of a million tests for a disease that nobody knew about until earlier in the year.”
Worried parents ‘carping’ about not being able to get a test to find out if their child is infected with a lethal virus. Front-line health workers ‘carping’ about getting a test to avoid infecting their patients and colleagues. Care workers ‘carping’ about taking a test so they don’t carry the virus from home to home. Did the Moggster have that sinking feeling we mere mortals experience when we say something amiss? Did he sense himself becoming an instant meme? Or is he so far gone in his impersonation of a Jeeves and Wooster aristocrat that he was blissfully unaware he just might have caused offence?
It’s not the first time he’s caused offence, and it won’t be the last. Here, for a little light relief from the spectacle of our country going to the dogs, is a hit-parade of a dirty-dozen of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s thundering blunders. (Henceforth, we’ll call this man of many names and epithets, both fond and not-so-fond, what we imagine is monogrammed in exquisite hand-stitching on his pillow-cases, hankies and unmentionables: JRM.)
In at number 12. Westminster’s most modest MP writes a column for the Sunday Express entitled, ‘Britain’s most learned MP’. It’s unlikely that an upper-second in history from Trinity College, Oxford, qualifies a man for such a title. Unfortunately, it’s not clear on what basis the Sunday Express has chosen to award it to him. Perhaps the editor was dazzled by a throwaway Latin phrase or two – although JRM once admitted he gets them from his well-thumbed edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
11. “I’m a man of the people: Vox populi, vox dei” (the voice of the people is the voice of God), JRM told Andrew Neil when the latter was trying to pin him down on what social class he thought he belonged to. Yeah, right. Son of an affluent peer, a millionaire in his own right and married to one of England’s wealthiest heiresses, Helena de Chair. Way to go, trying to get down with the people, by spouting Latin.
10. Still sticking with Latin … one of the best-ever Twitter ‘owns’ was when JRM tried to troll Theresa May with one of his cryptic tweets. “Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis,” he proclaimed, as if to say, “We won; you lost; get over it” in a slightly classier way than your average Brexiter – literally, “Times are changed; we, too, are changed within them”. Latin scholars immediately spotted errors. “If you decide to quote Latin, quote it correctly,” tweeted one. Had JRM typed a Bob Dylan lyric into Google Translate? The whole of Twitter can play at that game: “Brexit: errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum” (“to err is human, to persist, however, is diabolical”); “salve, testiculi ad brexitam” (which needs no translation); “bellendus” – and on, and on, and on.
9. MPs had long been irritated by JRM taking up a supine pose on the backbenches, but imagine the dismay when he continued the practice once he was promoted to the front bench, and even fell asleep there. One MP, Anna Turley, broke the rules of parliament to take a snap of him with her smartphone. The image went viral. It has been used on billboards and projected onto the sides of cliffs, and remains a firm favourite on social media. Ms Turley is no longer an MP, but on the one-year anniversary of the photo she tweeted, “the memes have been golden”.
8. In the spring of 2018 news broke that JRM’s asset management company, Somerset Capital, had opened a Dublin office, to insulate it from the risk of Brexit headwinds. According to the prospectus, investors demanded it. Then, a week after JRM called on Theresa May to inflict even tougher sanctions on Russia in the wake of the Salisbury poisonings, it emerged that Somerset Capital was heavily invested in Russia, including some firms blacklisted in the US.
7. JRM was involved in a scuffle at the University of the West of England, where he had a speaking engagement. The incident sparked a mini culture war, with the right-wing press blaming Labour, even though the protestors weren’t Labour activists, but from an obscure group nobody had heard of. Of course, somebody filmed the incident and Twitter sleuths went frame by frame to discover who threw the first punch. JRM was exonerated as trying to break the fight up, but it did look as if one of his entourage, ‘white-shirt man’, started it by pushing a female student. ‘White-shirt man’, thought to be a close-protection officer, became a one-day wonder when it was discovered he enjoys cosplaying SS officers in his spare time.
6. Then there was that time JRM ‘accidentally’ gave an after-dinner speech to a group of English fascists. ‘Accidentally’ because he claimed not to know how objectionable they were. There was no such excuse when he retweeted a speech by far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) leader Alice Weidel. He knew they were reprehensible, and he didn’t endorse them, but they’d said something nice about Brexit … When it’s only white supremacists, assorted racists and the political heirs of the Nazi party endorsing your policy, you’d think that might give you a clue.
5. After Boris Johnson shut down parliament, there were spontaneous protests by both Leavers and Remainers, united, up and down the country. Not just for one day, but for several days, over weeks. JRM, the privy counsellor charged with carrying the order to the Queen in Scotland, tried to bat away opposition to Johnson’s tyrannical act by belittling it. “The candyfloss of outrage,” he called it. We’ll take no lessons in morality from someone who lied to the Queen, thank you very much.
4. JRM had to be fact-checked when he told porky pies about the previous Labour government preventing Jobcentres telling people about the existence of foodbanks, whereas the new Conservative government encouraged them to spread the word and that was the reason for the inexorable rise in foodbank usage. This wasn’t true. It has always been at the discretion of Jobcentre managers if their staff mention foodbanks or not. Later, JRM told LBC listeners he found foodbanks ‘uplifting’, because they show what a compassionate country we are. More recently he has referred to the ‘generosity’ of Universal Credit, infamous amongst its recipients for being anything but.
3. Brexiters have always tried to downplay the risks and consequences of no-deal Brexit, so when Operation Yellowhammer was leaked to The Times, the government lie-machine, manned by Dominic Cummings, went into overdrive. JRM did his bit by lobbing an ad hominem at one of the medical experts involved in no-deal planning, Dr David Nicholl, comparing him to a disgraced anti-vaxxer and accusing him of being a typical ‘Remoaner’ spreading ‘project fear’. JRM later apologised when the chief medical officer slapped him down and Nicholl threatened to sue him.
2. Asked by Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on ITV’s Good Morning Britain whether he opposed abortion in all circumstances, even if the woman was raped, or it was a case of incest, JRM answered, “I’m afraid so”. Presumably ‘all cases’ means if the mother’s life is in danger too. He’d let you die rather than allow you to have an abortion, but he’d do it with ineffable politeness, and he’d be terribly sorry. Life begins at conception, don’t you know. Oh, well, that’s OK then … Except there’s rank hypocrisy here because Somerset Capital (remember them?) invested in a company that makes morning after pills for Far East markets. (Six months after this was made public, the investment was sold.)
1. Appearing on a radio phone-in to discuss the Grenfell inquiry report, JRM said it would have been ‘common sense’ to ignore the instructions of the fire brigade and flee. Understandably, his comments caused enormous offence. JRM was forced to apologise, and that was almost the last we saw of him in the 2019 general election … until he was re-elected. They do say every river in England is polluted, so there really must be something in the water in North East Somerset.
Matthew Parris once referred to JRM as “a barmaid’s idea of a toff”; yet still his constituents fall for this ultra-elite MP’s ‘man of the people’ schtick. You’d think all this would be a wake-up call to voters, wouldn’t you?