by James Anthony

Content warning: article mentions homophobia, religion, Trump, and Farage. 

Earlier this week, many of us watched on in horror as one of our potential Prime Ministers spouted his frankly archaic, illiberal views on Good Morning Britain. I thought to myself that alongside all the atheists, progressives and liberals of the UK, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s spin doctors and supporters must also be holding their head in their hands. His interview would have been seen by a large number of people and the further press coverage was extensive – surely this was the death blow to any leadership ambitions.

I suppose I have a lot of faith in our electorate and like to think that outing yourself as anti-choice, homophobic, and quite frankly medieval, on national television would ruin your political career.

Having been heavily involved in the Liberal Democrat General Election campaign in June, I got to witness first-hand the sort of damage that non-progressive views can cost you in certain seats. Tim Farron’s constant dithering around the issue of gay sex being a sin and the ensuing media circus came up on the doorstep locally, and the national campaign was undoubtedly tainted by this. Particularly in places such as Norwich – the least religious city in the country – heavily Christian values did not play out well amongst progressive voters.

(Norwich, the country’s least religious city. Image via gasway)

I’ve no doubt that a Rees-Mogg led Conservative party would be deeply unpopular here in Norwich. Norwich South would reject his party wholeheartedly, to an even greater degree than in June, and his illiberal Catholic views might even be enough to tip the balance in Norwich North and turn the constituency red once again. I was half hoping that Jacob Rees-Mogg would get chosen by the Tory membership to lead the party, just to see so many other constituencies with even mildly progressive electorates kick out their Tory MPs.

toxic views don’t necessarily mean electoral oblivion nowadays

Worryingly, politics is never that predictable. Even if it was – toxic views don’t necessarily mean electoral oblivion nowadays. Firstly, we have to remember that the highest concentrations of atheists and progressives are in mostly metropolitan places that already return a non-Tory MP. Alongside Norwich, areas such as Brighton, Bristol, and Bath are the sort of places which reject Conservative values at the ballot box, regardless of the leader. Rees-Mogg’s toxicity may not affect the outcome in many seats, simply because they’re already voting against his party.

He also has something in common with all of our recent Prime Ministers, in that he is openly and unashamedly Christian. Despite a supposed divide between religion and politics, all of our 21st Century Prime Ministers have held personal Christian views, and many have publicly spoken about using their faith in order to make their decisions. This is often reported, but rarely is there a negative perception of them because of it. It may be that a religious leader, even one with rather backwards views is not seen as a huge issue for the majority of people.

(Image via Glenn Hager (CC))

Perhaps the most worrying thing about Rees-Mogg’s potential premiership is that so many commentators are writing him off, especially after his Good Morning Britain appearance. Remember when people said Corbyn’s past comments meant he was unlikely to win the Labour leadership, let alone poll above the Tories? Remember when American commentators dismissed Trump’s chances due to his repeated offensive remarks? Remember when we were definitely going to remain in the European Union because Farage and Co. were so toxic? Yeah. There is a concerning respect for politicians who speak their mind and are seen as being honest regardless of what their core beliefs are – or how vile they may be.

There is a concerning respect for politicians who speak their mind and are seen as being honest regardless of what their core beliefs are – or how vile they may be

While Rees-Mogg may appear to be some kind of comedy character, the so-called ‘Honourable Member for the 18th Century’ is no laughing matter. As backwards as his views are, we cannot sit back and assume that he would be unpopular amongst the electorate. Despite saying he did not want to change the law on these issues and denying he was interested in a leadership bid, the potential to have a Prime Minister who is so clearly anti-LGBTQ+, anti-choice, and illiberal would be a backwards step to end all backwards steps. While I have faith that at the next election, a Conservative party led by him would be firmly rejected, in politics recently there is only one certainty – that nobody can take anything for granted.

Featured image: via Vox

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