An issue which frequently rears its head is that of free speech, and ‘no-platforming’ people at universities. Some support blocking individuals who have espoused radical and/or dangerous views from speaking at universities, because it both normalizes their views and opens up the risk that others will follow their lead. Others consider this a betrayal of free speech: if we do not allow certain people to express their views, then we don’t really live in a free society, right?
I’ve always held sympathies for both sides, which is very easy to do when you never have to be implicated in a decision yourself. It’s easy to dismiss from afar – and, equally, it’s easy for one’s opinion to be considerably stronger when you’re devoid of personal responsibility.
I got a ticket to see Jacob Rees-Mogg speak at Queen Mary University a while ago because the ticket was free and, like, why not? I like politics, I like having the opportunity to see politicians in person, Jacob Rees-Mogg is a fairly important politician, and I like going to fairly important things because it instils within me the sense that I too am fairly important (this is untrue). As the event date of February 1st drew ever closer, I was really mulling over whether to go. A student protest, organised by various left-wing societies, was gonna be occurring outside, the intention being to show that Rees-Mogg is not welcome at this university because of his far-right views on abortion, welfare, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, Brexit, human rights, and so on…
Rees-Mogg’s views are very much abhorrent to me. I do not sit anywhere near his end of the political spectrum, and I did not wish to express support for a man who thinks food banks are “uplifting.” But I went to see him speak anyway.
(note: he is extremely tall and spindly and looks like an alien)
Rees-Mogg flitted between surprisingly non-controversial statements (“the objectification of women in the media is bad”) and typically divisive comments (because all the evidence points toward Brexit being a disaster, this means the elites are fiddling with the numbers), providing just enough fish food for a mixed hall of furiously-frothing Moggies, hungry journalists and white-knuckled leftists. He repeatedly evaded questions pertaining to his potential leadership candidacy, eventually resorting to a fairly lame response: that a Conservative leader has never come from the backbenches, so him running would be pointless.
I don’t think anybody believes Rees-Mogg’s frequent denials. He is not a man who releases statements and acts on a whim – he is calculating and certain, and, despite his begging to the contrary, self-aware. He undoubtedly wants to be Prime Minister for the same reasons that anybody else does, yet understands that to say so directly would blow his chances out of the window. If he was to make even an inkling of his true thought process public, three potential paths arise: Tory divisions burst into open war, liberals and conservatives fighting over his suitability to lead the party and the country; or, the party, the public, and the press rally against him, nipping his aspirations firmly in the bud; or, the confirmation that there is a successor to Theresa May, one with some very new and ‘interesting’ ideas, prompts the Tories to chuck her out of No. 10 sooner than expected, installing an untested backbencher as Prime Minister. An untested backbencher who would be very much out of his depth in government, possibly sowing further chaos, destabilizing Brexit and his agenda, ultimately opening the door for Labour to take power.
No – much better to sit and wait.
Another thing which Thursday evening made clear to me is that Rees-Mogg really is Margaret Thatcher reincarnate. Not only is she his “political hero,” but they both take the same view of the state: it’s bad. Full-stop. Unequivocally, absolutely, shite. According to Rees-Mogg, it is the purpose of government to remove limitations upon the individual, to make people’s lives easier, which is very much a classically liberal perspective (a young man who very evidently studies Politics and looked to be on the edge of ejaculation asked him whether there was a place for classical liberalism in the Conservative Party, much to Rees-Mogg’s delight). Now, I don’t think this is a particularly objectionable viewpoint – most of the time. What is the point of stopping the public from living their best lives?
Rees-Mogg strips himself of Thatcher’s contradictions, ditching her blatant authoritarianism for full-throttled libertarianism (he said he wouldn’t bother holding referendums on making abortion and same-sex marriage illegal, because the country has made its mind up) but he maintains one of her predilections: for the state should step back and allow people to make the most of their lives… except when it comes to money.
In Rees-Mogg’s mind, the state can’t do everything (an obvious observation), which means it shouldn’t bother to provide sufficient welfare assistance. Anything else? Sure! But not welfare. Never welfare. This would only foster a culture of dependency upon the state, meaning those people can never hope to live those full and meaningful lives they so deserve. Of course, this overlooks the fact that they can’t live any life at all if they’ve got no money. Because they’d be dead. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I very much hoped to ask Rees-Mogg directly about welfare, why he cannot see that it’s simply common sense to provide the poor and unemployed with a sufficient income so as to ensure the health and well-being of the nation, and why he considers food banks uplifting, but not the welfare state itself. Is it just the fact that it absolves people such as him of responsibility? Probably, but I doubt he would have said so. I’ve no idea what he would have said; people around me got to ask questions, but not I, sadly.
It was still worth going. I think protests are incredibly valuable, enjoyable, and are more worthwhile than nay-sayers think. In instances such as this, however, I will always consider it more useful to confront those of disgusting views directly to their faces than to kick and scream outside. Even if I didn’t get to do so on this occasion, at least I tried, ‘ey?