The star of Conservative party conference so far can’t be found in the main hall. Instead, they are best spotted at fringe events – each of which ends up being an oversubscribed event that involves a massive queue. Step forward Jacob Rees-Mogg. The arch-Brexiteer has been causing a scene wherever he goes with activists stopping him for photos. At today’s Policy Exchange fringe event – titled ‘Can the Conservatives win in Canterbury and Middlesbrough at the same time?’ – the Moggster only needed to take his seat on the panel to trigger cries of ‘Mogg for PM!’ from the audience.
Although Rees-Mogg has repeatedly ruled himself out as a future prime minister, the Conservative backbencher – and chair of the European Research Group – did have some words of advice for his party on branding. Asked whether Brexit was what is stopping young voters from flocking to the party, Rees-Mogg said that it shouldn’t be – adding that a failure of Brexit ‘propaganda’ was to blame for any negative image:
‘I think there’s lots of failures of propaganda really that we have allowed Brexit to be about immigration or putting up barriers or not liking going on holiday in Europe. It’s none of that. It’s about who runs your government, do you or somebody else.’
Mogg said that the idea of taking back control was actually a ‘really popular argument’ with young people. In order to make it, he said the party had to get away from the ‘Ukip-isation’ of Brexit as ‘some sepia tinted 1950s’ vision. Instead, Brexit Britain must be outward looking and global:
‘I think that’s a really popular argument with young people and we need to get out there and make it and try and get away from the Ukip-isation of Brexit. I think the Ukip view, you may think it’s odd for me to say, of some sepia tinted 1950s view of Brexit has never been my vision of Brexit. Its about being a global nation rather than a narrow European one.’
Of course, Theresa May has tried to pitch a global Britain previously but it is yet to take flight. Rees-Mogg’s comments about the lack of a forward-looking vision for Brexit feed into a wider criticism of the party – a lack of positivity. On the issue of how to win big at the next election, Rees-Mogg said the Conservatives had to clearly explain how they would make voters’ lives better:
‘What resonates with people is when you say ‘we will make your lives a little bit better’ and frankly we are not saying that at the moment.’
The problem is that over in the half-empty main hall such a message been in short supply.