Most politicians can only dream of having the cult following that Jacob Rees-Mogg is enjoying at Conservative party conference. His events are packed out an hour before they are due to start. Cries of ‘Mogg for PM’ have been heard. And when Rees-Mogg walked into the room at a Leave means Leave rally last night, he was greeted with wild applause just for turning up. Mogg’s loyal supporters hang on his every word, but there’s one thing on which they don’t agree with their idol on: whether it’s time for Theresa May to go.
The problem for Rees-Mogg is that in firing up his followers to ‘chuck Chequers’, it’s difficult to row back when some then take the logical next step and call for the PM’s head. Rees-Mogg’s logic is simple: hate the sin but don’t hate the sinner. Chequers is bad and it needs to go, he argues, but ousting May now would only make matters worse for the Tories. He delivered a convincing argument of that point last night, saying that:
‘The Tory party often thinks that the easy solution is to change the leader, and actually changing the leader usually causes more problems than it solves and therefore, in my mind, it is sensible and prudent to back the Prime Minister and to allow her to get back to what she said.’
Rees-Mogg’s hope is that Chequers will ultimately chuck itself: as he pointed out, Labour won’t back it, many Tory MPs hate it and even the EU don’t like it. He joked that even the Downing Street cat has now changed its mind about the plan. ‘Ultimately, political reality breaks in’, he said, and in the mean time Brexiteers can wait patiently for the PM to realise that Chequers won’t work, whether she likes it or not. ‘Steady boys, steady’, is his message for those angry about May’s current Brexit plan.
But this passive approach doesn’t really fit with the language of chucking Chequers; many Brexiteers gathered at last night’s event on the fringes of Tory conference want action now.
Some also see a broader problem beyond the PM’s Chequers plan: they no longer trust her. Even the mention of May’s name was enough for some in the audience to yell ‘sack the woman’; another woman yelled out ‘traitor’ when the PM was name checked. Clearly such views don’t represent all Brexiteers or indeed all of Rees-Mogg’s followers. Far from it. But Rees-Mogg has got a problem: how to persuade his supporters that it’s Chequers, not the PM, that needs getting rid of. He said that his hope is that the PM’s Chequers plan is merely an ‘aberration’ – a bump along the road to Brexit. After all, he pointed out, ‘so much’ of what the PM has said before about Brexit has been broadly good. If it goes, ‘we would all be happy’ again. But on the basis of last night’s Leave means Leave rally, it seems that whatever Rees-Mogg might say there is one thing that he and his followers don’t agree on: chucking Chequers isn’t enough.