What happened when Jacob Rees-Mogg visited Cambridge
The event was organised by CUCA.
The talk was shrouded in a level of secrecy that would have made MI6 baulk.
Regardless of these precautionary measures, when we arrived, there was a mid-sized protest gathered outside the venue. As we filed by, exchanging pleasantries with friends on the picket line, it became apparent that this would not be an ordinary evening.
The crowd inside the lecture theatre was abuzz. A clear sense of excitement could be detected from those who proudly proclaimed themselves to be part of the 'Moggmentum' movement. However, there was also those present who evidently had a less than favourable view of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esq., a fact which made questions from the floor particularly interesting as the evening progressed.
Due to start at six, everyone was duly seated and waiting expectantly as the allotted time approached. The hour came and went, and we were assured that Jacob, as the organisers chummily referred to him, was running twenty minutes late. More time passed and nearly an hour later (fifty-four minutes to be exact) Mogg walked in.
The applause was deafening, and the blatant joy on the face of one young man sat near to me was striking. Waiting patiently for the audience to subside, Mogg walked confidently to the front, profusely apologising as he drawled in his patrician tones that "the Prime Minister wanted to see me" by way of an explanation. This meeting was in part, he admitted, due to the cabinet reshuffle that had taken place earlier in the day, with many of the assembled relieved that he had maintained his position as leader of the house.
There was also a sense of curiosity to learn more about the casualties of the day, with one guest requesting comment of Sajid Javid's resignation as Chancellor. Mogg was highly complementary to his parliamentary colleague, explaining away the step down as "the right thing to do" before going into a long monologue about the importance of good relations between Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street. This is Mogg's great skill; creating a false sense of openness through humour and detailed historical anecdotes without actually giving anything away. Mogg is open in acknowledging this particular trait, noting that now he is on the front benches he is unable to "run my mouth off" on any issue. Mogg's reticence is further evident when he is asked about the upcoming budget, quickly shutting down any further questioning by assuring us all that "I know nothing about it" before dismissing any rumours as "the Treasury liking to float kites in the air to see how people react."
Largely, what was said was of no particular surprise or note. Mogg reiterated his strong belief in the current government, asserting that the Prime Minister has the "enthusiasm, optimism and determination to bring about and clear improvement to all parts of the UK." Political opponents were subtly undermined: John Bercow favoured the death penalty in the 1980s, we were told, and the recent string of controversial deportations can be traced back to the legacy of New Labour. The importance of the free market and private property ownership were also reiterated on multiple occasions. Mogg was also clear in emphasising the importance of good relations with the USA and his respect for the current President. He did, however, show visible relief when an American guest pointed out that there were definite stylistic differences between himself and President Trump.
The atmosphere in the room remained mostly relaxed, but tensions were heightened when another attendee challenged Mr Rees-Mogg on his previous comments denying that British actions in the Boer War constituted a genocide. As means of context, it should be known that during the course of the South African campaign it was official British strategy to combat the guerrilla warfare of Boer Commandoes through the destruction of farms in order to prevent the Boers from obtaining supplies. The British in particular deployed a strategy of destroying crops, slaughtering livestock, poisoning wells and salting the ground. As Mogg explains, in his understanding, the camps set up by the British were in fact "designed to keep the families of the Boers safe." While there is a level of truth to this argument, it must also be noted that Lord Kitchener's policies meant that many of the camps were poorly administered and overcrowded, leading to countless fatalities. Further debate on this topic was, however, quickly averted, and Mogg diverged into a dialogue about the British values which have been exported across the world. He identified these as: common law, the rights to property, freedom of speech, and democracy.
Mogg seamlessly glides between topics, creating cohesive links which a humanities supervisor would drool over. As he drew to the end of his responses, it was explained that Rees-Mogg had to leave due to a prior commitment with Stephen Barkley. So, after thirty-three minutes he walked out – and with that the evening was over. But as we filed out of the crowded lecture theatre, the murmurings of the assembled guests indicated that they were satisfied, viewing their time as well spent.
Featured image credit: Flickr: Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP