May 17, 2019

‘Worse than a twit’ British Politician and Brexit supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new book is panned by critics as ‘stagerringly silly’


Hello friends. Last time we talked Brexit on MobyLives! the UK was due to crash out of the European Union on March 29 and an online petition to Revoke Article 50 was picking up speed.

Well, surprise surprise, we did not leave on the 29th and over six million signatures were collected, making it the most supported online petition of all time in the UK. Now we wait in limbo as the deadline has been extended to, ironically, October 31, aka Halloween, perhaps set to release actual hell on earth. As the demons and ghouls of the underworld rise in tormented glee, they will take one look at the gigantean mess on earth and, panic stricken, leave us to our suffer in own misery which they could not have done any better job of creating.

During this limbo, one prominent Brexiteer has a new book coming out. If you are not yet familiar with Jacob Rees-Mogg, behold! A British politician and member of the Conservative Party, he is an eccentric, posh, Victorian-esque character with upper-class mannerisms, Eton and Oxford educated, often the butt of jokes to do with his nanny and his wardrobe (including the occasional top hat). This marvellous photo of him with his nanny went viral last year and spawned so many bitingly hilarious comments you may end up crying with laughter.

However, beneath the toff-like veneer lies a dangerous man in a position of power with outdated, appalling views. As Suzanne Moore wrote for the Guardian back in 2017:

The real deal is not a charming, upper-crust throwback, but a thoroughly modern, neoconservative bigot. Views that verge on fascistic are fine if dressed up in tweed with a knowledge of the classics thrown in. What a laugh! No one who thinks like that could get elected, could they? That would be a sick joke indeed.

Campaigning for the Leave side in the EU referendum, Rees-Mogg is against same-sex marriage, is anti-abortion, is a Trump supporter, he doesn’t believe in climate-change legislation … I could go on. Now his book The Victorians: Twelve Titans who Forged Britain, is due out on May 23, described as follows by his publisher Ebury:

Many associate the Victorian era with austere social attitudes and filthy factories. But in this bold and provocative book, Jacob Rees-Mogg—leading Tory MP and prominent Brexit advocate—takes up the story of twelve landmark figures to paint a very different picture of the age: one of bright ambition, bold self-belief and determined industriousness.

So far reviewers are having a jolly old time ripping it apart. AN Wilson savaged the book in The Times saying:

This is not serious history, just a silly bit of self-promotion by a politician with an obvious agenda … The Victorians consists of a dozen clumsily written pompous schoolboy compositions about 19th-century characters.

Kathryn Hughes at the Guardian also calls it out for what it is: an excuse to look back on British history with fond nostalgia at the good ol’days, conveniently leaving out aspects including the dark consequences of colonialism, prevalent racist and sexist attitudes, poverty, extreme mortality rates, etc. because by jove, those Victorians really knew how to do things right! What we really need to do is get our country back from those damned foreigners.

This, then, is biography as manifesto, although even that is to dignify The Victorians with a coherence it doesn’t possess. In the space of a few paragraphs Rees-Mogg tells us that the Victorian age was strong and stable, except for those times when it was trembling on the brink of revolution …

Rees-Mogg’s problem is that you really can’t just set your own present day concerns over the historical past and expect things to line up neatly …

Finally, you do have to wonder at the lack of women among Rees-Mogg’s pantheon. In mythology, six of the 12 Titans, the children of Uranus and Gaea, were female; not here. The only female who appears in the book is Queen Victoria herself.

It will be interesting to see how other British national newspapers perceive the book. The Guardian is as left-wing as you can get. On the other end of the scale we have The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, and The Telegraph. The Times may present itself as somewhere in the political middle, but let’s be honest, it is owned by Rupert Murdoch and veers to the right often, making their review of Rees-Mogg’s book all the more satisfying. Let’s hope he continues to get the roasting he deserves.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.