On Campus: Jacob Rees- Mogg | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

On Campus: Jacob Rees- Mogg

Comment Writer Tom Rose gives his opinion on Jacob Rees- Mogg's talk on campus

The appearance of Jacob Rees-Mogg at the University of Birmingham was always going to be a matter of controversy. Despite being founded by Joseph Chamberlain, whose two sons would go on to lead the Conservative Party, the University of Birmingham, like many other educational institutions, has many powerful movements within its student body which support numerous liberal and left-wing ideals, who would undoubtedly be present to protest against his appearance.

Rees-Mogg’s opening statement was that ‘conservativism is about preserving what is good, not preserving everything’

The prominent backbench MP, known for his polemic views on abortion and same-sex marriage, was surprisingly met with huge applause from the audience at a university whose Students’ Union has repeatedly been issued with red warnings from the Free Speech University Rankings. After being introduced by the outgoing President of the University of Birmingham Conservatives, Luke Caldecott, Mr. Rees-Mogg’s address focused on two key issues – his rationale for Conservatism and interestingly, what he defined as ‘the issue of the day’, freedom of speech.

Rees-Mogg’s opening statement was that ‘conservativism is about preserving what is good, not preserving everything’. He was very quick to reinforce this with the idea that ‘conservatives believe that society is built from the bottom up, not from the top down’. For some, these would automatically appear to be controversial statements, considering the backdrop of austerity and cuts to public services under various Conservative-led governments. It was, however, a breath of fresh air for Mr. Rees-Mogg to not commit Theresa May’s usual crime at PMQs of simply criticising Labour Party policy and not suggesting an appropriate alternative. Instead, he referred to his belief that economies grow by giving members of the public freedom of choice with their money, warning the audience that ‘borrowing is merely taxation postponed. It has to be paid for at some future date and borrowing today, you’ll be really pleased to know, is taxation to be paid by all of you in the future.’

However, this is the issue with Mr. Rees-Mogg. His talent with words allows him to make controversy sound plausible

This was compounded by a passionate question from within the audience, outlining many shortfalls of Conservative policy with its detrimental effects of austerity. On the issue of food banks, Mr. Rees-Mogg spoke about how it is ‘surely a good thing that people voluntarily want to help their fellow human being and we should be thankful for those who have helped their fellows [to] have a better standard of living. But it doesn’t mean that the government [and] you, as taxpayers, aren’t providing the basic welfare support that we feel is the right thing to do in our society.’ Addressing how ‘there aren’t lots of mystery rich people who will pay extra tax to provide this funding’, he rightly spoke about how getting people into work is the best way out of poverty, referring to the Conservatives’ impressively low unemployment figures. This response was met with huge applause and was an extremely plausible comeback to a question on the Conservatives’ track record. Whilst his answer will certainly not convince everyone, as a non-Conservative voter, I do not feel he could have provided a more convincing case (although I wouldn’t use the word ‘justification’ here) for the Conservatives Party’s actions.

However, this is the issue with Mr. Rees-Mogg. His talent with words allows him to make controversy sound plausible. This applied to questions on foreign aid, Trump and same-sex marriage (in relation to the views of his constituents). However, when asked about tuition fees – an issue of great significance to the audience – he was remarkably honest. His response to the sensitive issue of student maintenance, and more specifically whether higher earning parents should have to ‘subsidise’ their children’s living costs, did not appear as satisfactory. Citing how he was ‘not eligible for a maintenance payment because [his] parents’ income was of a level where [he] wasn’t entitled to do it’ was a very impractical example, considering his family’s relative historic wealth. This certainly doesn’t do the Conservative Party any favours in its battle to help those ‘just about managing’.

However, politics wouldn’t be politics without contrasting views and Mr. Rees-Mogg seemed to champion this

However, politics wouldn’t be politics without contrasting views and Mr. Rees-Mogg seemed to champion this. Talking about how he believes ‘it’s really important that politicians discuss political issues – the controversies of the day – with students [and] young people’, demonstrates his essential appreciation of freedom of speech. Referring back to the earlier passionate question from the audience, he said how ‘brilliant’ it was that she ‘politely but nonetheless forcefully made her argument’, saying that ‘that’s what public debate should be about’. The no platforming movement clearly has no place at any university, but as he fantastically put it, ‘politicians shouldn’t be snowflakes either’.

 



Published

16th March 2018 at 9:00 am



Images from

Chris McAndrew



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