The art of Jacob Rees-Mogg is to be preposterous and sincere at the same time. It's the reason why he is increasingly popular. It explains Moggmania. It’s also why people are now beginning to take him seriously as a Tory leadership contender; why he is topping the polls for that job. It helps that he is a gent, a man who treats everyone with courtesy, which has always been popular. But it is his ability to be genuine while coming across as absurd – or is it the other way round -- that makes voters warm to him. A bit like Jeremy Corbyn.
Take Mogg’s interview this morning. His views about abortion and gay marriage are, to the media and political classes at least, utterly wrong – way beyond the boundaries of acceptable opinion. Most people, however, are intelligent enough to see a man of principle – a thing Westminster politics lacks – standing up for what he believes, and they like it. No matter how much he may hide himself behind that antiquated personality, it still takes courage to say you oppose same-sex marriage on national TV.
— ITV News (@itvnews) September 6, 2017
Mogg is a Catholic. He thinks marriage is a sacramental institution for the union of men and women. This may be hard for many gays to accept but it is not automatically homophobic. Most voters (unlike most journalists) can see the difference between someone who hates gays and somebody who accepts his religion’s teaching.
Mogg also believes that life is sacred and valid from the moment of conception (a perfectly logical and coherent position, philosophically, when you think about it – unlike the law in Britain which says that a 25-week old foetus has more right to exist than a 23-week old one). Mogg’s opposition to abortion is so firm that he even objects to abortion in cases of rape. ‘Afraid so,’ he told Piers Morgan, which is prompting a lot of guffawing across social media.
If the Mogg for leader campaign gathers pace, that ‘afraid so’ will dog him — but should it? If you believe that human life begins at conception, that a foetus or even a zygote is a life (which, again, is not altogether unreasonable), it is not mad or even ‘extremist’ to say that the children of rapes should be protected. Terrible for raped women, of course, and another good reason why sexual violence should be punished with the utmost severity. But not insane or ‘medieval’, as some people suggest.
Holding such a belief can be poisonous in today’s politics. But will such a strong pro-life view undermine the case for Mogg’s leadership (which he describes, rather winningly, as a ‘vanity’)? I’m not sure it should or that it will. The public likes sincerity, and increasingly admires people who are willing to say things that risk making them unpopular, especially if they seem endearingly comic at the same time.