July 17, 2017

WILL COLLIER: Jacob Rees-Mogg Is Finally Having His Moment.. “For years, the Tory backbencher was mocked for his old-fashioned mannerisms and stuffy pedigree. Now, with Brexit triumphant and Theresa May struggling, his future looks bright.”

The time was January of 1991, the place the ramshackle debate chamber of the Oxford Union Society. The Union was debating an updated version of the infamous 1933 King and Country motion — “this House will in no circumstances fight for its Queen and Country” — on the eve of the first Gulf War.

My seatmate in the hall was referring to Jacob Rees-Mogg, then a gangly 22-year-old from Trinity College, who rose to speak against the resolution amid considerable cheers — and jeers — from the standing-room-only House. “You won’t believe this kid,” my new friend had told me before the debate. “He looks like Ichabod Crane, but he speaks like Churchill crossed with James Earl Jones.”

The details of the long debate that followed are now, sadly, lost to my memory, but the impression left by Rees-Mogg’s turn in the well is as sharp as it was on that cold and tense evening. While his delivery was every bit as stentorian as promised, the quality of Rees-Mogg’s rhetoric and sly humor far outstripped that of the others on his own side as well as his opponents.

I was struck at the time by the familiar themes at the core of his arguments. Several speakers on the Oppose side rose with arguments based on everything from the moral duty to oppose Saddam Hussein’s brutality (somewhat effective) to exhortations that supporting the war was a patriotic obligation (much less so).

Rees-Mogg, meanwhile, attacked the issue with arguments that could have come from a Reagan or Buckley, citing the need to defend the West’s national interests and giving short shrift to the vapid “no blood for oil” bleating that ignored the realities of trade, economics, and statecraft alike.

To an American conservative in a high bastion of Western left-wing academia, listening to his statement and his sharp responses to would-be gotcha questions from the floor was a delight. As we filed out on the Oppose side (which lost, Oxford being Oxford, despite Rees-Mogg’s best efforts), I told my fellow academic expatriate, “25 years from now, that guy is going to be prime minister.”

Missed it by that much? Maybe, we’ll see.

In the meantime, read the whole thing.