There used to be something called “silly season.” This was the time in the late summer, after Parliament had stopped sitting, when Fleet street, as it then was, relaxed its not very demanding standards and encouraged the inventiveness of its journalists. The column inches which had been devoted to the verbatim reports of what was going on in Parliament were instead filled with all kind of stories about crop circles, shattering windscreens, and to I do not know what all.
Such stories no longer have the prominence that they once enjoyed. The press has become more serious, and the arrival of American style fact checkers has caste an unwelcome gloom over our summers. Woodward and Bernstein with their obsession with “well sourced” ( i.e. boring ) scoops have a lot to answer for! But the phrase “silly season” has remained as a way of dismissing stories in the press which really do not cut it as real news. It is not surprising therefore that the wave of enthusiasm for Jacob Rees Mogg as the next British prime minister has been disparaged a silly season chatter, as in some respects it is, or was!
Moggy is good. There is no doubt about that. He is immaculately presented. He is bright. He is well informed, unnervingly articulate, and consequently a star on Youtube, where clips of his performances have deservedly become hugely popular.
In many ways he reminds me of William F. Buckley junior ( 1925-2008 ). Like Buckley he comes from a rich Catholic background ( God love her, his wife has just given birth the their sixth child! ) And above all like Buckley he is in love with the English language as a spoken medium.
For others appearing on television is a duty, a chore, something that they have to do because it is demanded by the role that they play. But for those like Buckley and Rees Mogg, it is obviously a delight. This gives them a huge advantage. Buckley not only had things to say, but he relished the process of saying them. I detect the same pleasure in Jacob Rees Mogg. Unlike his father William, who was the editor of “The Times” and a highly professional journalist, young Jacob does not shine in print. His web site is unremarkable, but he dominates the studio in the way that Buckley did.
There is however a crucial difference between Buckley and Rees Mogg. Buckley had no real ambitions for office, despite the fact that he did run to be the mayor of New York City in 1965. Buckley understood that his gift was as a publicist. He understood that his “charism,” to use the theological term, was to be spokesman, and as an enabler of others as editor of “The National Review” – the magazine that he founded. But Rees Mogg is a member of Parliament who is being seriously promoted as a potential prime minister. While being articulate is, or should be, a necessary condition for being Premier, it is not a sufficient condition. This is especially true in parliamentary system like the British where nuts and bolts are everything. The overwhelming objection to Jacob Rees Mogg succeeding Mrs May as prime minister is that he lacks any kind of administrative experience. We know he can talk. But we do not know he can walk.
That said though, he is obviously, like Buckley, an enormously talented man. A man, moreover, who is popular not only within his own party, but is also liked by his opponents too. He is transparently decent, and is clearly to not on the make. For all these reasons he deserves promotion in the next reshuffle, perhaps even to one of the great offices of state. It is only by seeing how will he performs in such a position that we can judge whether he is a indeed new Disraeli, as his supporters imply, or whether Moggmentum is just a piece of silly season fun!