Foreign newspapers noticed him a few years ago, because he dressed – and, above all, spoke – like an aristocrat of two centuries ago. The problem is that even Jacob Rees-Mogg’s positions in terms of climate (and not only) have remained anchored at that time. Among the praetorians of Boris Johnson, an exponent of a right that became influential when it discovered a surprising majority after Brexit, he was promoted to Minister for Economic Affairs, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the new government of Liz Truss. The anthology of his denialist and pro-fossil fuel statements raises fears for the net zero commitments to be achieved by 2050 and for the return to past-based energy recipes in the country that not even a year ago hosted the COP26 in Glasgow.
But how did this cosplayer of the Victorian age, always in double-breasted and with a collection of controversial public outings to get so high in the ganglia of British power? The family helps. His father, after failing twice to enter parliament with the conservatives (the same political love as his son) was editor of the Times. He uses that position to fit into the establishment and into the circles that matter. He will become Lord. He leaves a manifesto book called “The Sovereign Individual” which Alastair Campbell, Blair’s right hand man in the golden years, calls “the most important book you have never heard of”. He influences, among others, the tech-guru Peter Thiel, who moved from PayPal to the alt-right and Trumpism.
Legend has it that Rees-Mogg bought his first shares when he was still in school, then made a fortune in finance, eventually founding a hedge fund, Somerset Capital Management, in which it still has a significant stake and, therefore, interests. The fund also invests in oil and coal mining. Despite the rise, first leader of the group in Westminster and then minister of “Brexit Opportunities” (it seems an oxymoron, but it is a symbolic role) in one of the Johnson government reshuffles, he has never felt compelled to sell his shares . His fortune, it is estimated, exceeds 100 million pounds.
He rides a vintage Bentley T1, bought by his father since 1992. It will have an emotional value, but who knows how much it pollutes. Her sister, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, was MEP for Nigel Farage’s latest europhobic creature, the Brexit Party that in 2019 wins the European elections with 5 million votes and 30% funded by the protest vote of the conservatives, disappointed by the paralysis Congresswoman of Theresa May. But let’s go back to the brother. He seems to stand up whenever he hears God Save the Queen. That is, the King, but forgive us if we write it one last time like this. You study at Eton, university at Oxford, the typical posh youth curriculum.
He ran twice unsuccessfully to the House of Commons, in 1997 and 2001, but managed to fulfill his father’s dream: he entered Westminster in 2010. The Tories of David Cameron’s modernization course did not assign him an armored boarding school like the neopremier Liz Truss. He runs to North East Somerset, home to the family, and wins. With each round since then, he has increased the margin until a “safe” seat is colored blue in the classification of British pollsters. Conservatives still consider him a parody, an eccentric but harmless country gentleman.
He makes mistakes. Attending a Traditional Britain Group dinner, he is forced to distance himself when the association fights for the repatriation of immigrants of color to Africa. It turns out that during the election campaign he plagiarized an editorial in the Sun by passing it off as himself, that the alleged messages of the voters on display on the flyers were actually fabricated by his staff. Amateur missteps: he won’t commit any more. His convictions, on the other hand, will remain as reactionary as they were originally.
A fervent Catholic faith; six children by his wife Helena, the last one is called Sixtus with little originality. In 2022 and in a more inclusive and rights-conscious country, he professes himself an anti-abortionist because “life is sacrosanct and begins with conception.” He is opposed to abortion even in cases of incest or rape, he is also opposed to gay marriage. He collects disgraceful quotes on these and other issues, such as when he accuses the victims of the fires of lacking “common sense” for not running away from the flames.
In the meantime, it gains the sympathy of the more traditionalist and retrograde fringes of a party that is drifting to the right. The establishment, of which he is a part by right, understands that it is no joke when he becomes president of the influential European research group (ERG), a lobby of Eurosceptic MPs. Brexit ultracy since before the 2016 referendum, unlike many converts, capitalizes on this political capital by shelling the government because it stumbles, unable to get the conditions for divorce from the EU negotiated with Brussels approved in Parliament. In fact, he is among the leaders of the internal opposition, which takes over the party amid May’s tears and Johnson’s blond tuft on Downing Street.
From 2019 onwards, loyalty to Boris is worth the series of promotions mentioned above. The declarations become a crusade anti-woke. During the pandemic, on the verge of mobbing, leaves intimidating notes to public employees in smart working. If all this was not enough for you, we come to the climate chapter. In a formation that is as environmentalist as the liberal right can be, Rees-Mogg magnifies fossil fuels and theorizes extraction “to the last drop of oil in the North Sea.” The frackingor hydraulic fracturing, was suspended in 2019, but according to him “it looks like a pretty interesting opportunity.”
When he was less famous, he said worse. It excludes human activities a few days from the historic report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which in 2013 indicates our species as the main responsible for global warming. Flirts with deniers, argues that humans have to adapt to climate change. In the Telegraph, he writes that bills are rising due to “climate alarmism”. Or: “I prefer my constituents to have cheap energy instead of wind turbines,” he said in 2014. On a windy island, however, wind costs nine times less than gas-generated electricity. “Carbon dioxide emissions are known to have risen, but the effect on the climate remains to be ascertained,” he insists a year later.
“Rees-Mogg is the last person who should be dealing with energy now, at the worst possible time,” says Rebecca Newsom, a Greenpeace UK executive. “His energy policies seem to be based entirely on the root cause of this economic crisis: the prices of fossil fuels,” adds Chris Venables of the Green Alliance think tank. “For years he has been on the wrong side of history – the libdem leader, Sir Ed Davey, crushes him -, the last thing we need is a climatic dinosaur like him”.
According to some analysts, the appointment of Rees-Mogg would have been balanced with that of Graham Stuart as minister for the climate. Stuart has international credibility and is on positions antithetical to those of the executive deskmate. They were not easy choices if, how tells the English press, two other seniors refused the job in order not to cohabit with Rees-Mogg. The fear is that the United Kingdom give up, or fail to keep, your commitments on net zero.
Two other boxes, in the rest of the team, do not stand out for environmentalism. Truss’s new economic advisor is Matthew Sinclair, author of the book “Let Them Eat Carbon” and, in his words, more fond of defending the standard of living of taxpayers than of taxing them to combat climate change. The new Transport Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, ten years ago argued falsehoods such as “the ice sheets are not melting” and “global warming is not really happening”. She then she changed her mind.
Returning to Rees-Mogg, other observers think he will have to surrender to the evidence. Renewable energies are the future, also because they cost less and do not fill the coffers of autocrats. It would be superstitious to dwell on reading his surname, which ends in a sound similar to “smog”. It is his political positions that do not make him compatible with King Charles III, an ecologist from before it was mainstream. Even his website looks like something out of another internet age, with addresses to send physical letters to and a promise to respond only to voters in his constituency.
At the age of twelve, interviewed by a French TV channel, Rees-Mogg explained that he “wanted to become a company manager before he turned thirty”. And by 70 ?, they follow him. “I’d like to be prime minister.” Here it is, the unconfessable dream, in the sense that it has no longer been publicly confessed, of a politician out of time, with an anachronistic and traditionalist program in a worse way, but tremendously ambitious.