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In Britain, Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg Is Gaining A Following With Younger Audience


British lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg made headlines a few years back for using the longest word ever spoken in the U.K. Parliament.


POLITICIAN JACOB REES-MOGG: So let me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be rude about them. Let me indulge in the floccinaucinihilipilification of judges of the European Union.

MCEVERS: Rees-Mogg is a Conservative, the son of a lord and sounds like a character out of "Downton Abbey." But recently he's developed a cult following on Twitter and Instagram. And some young conservatives want him to run for leadership of the Conservatives, the ruling party. NPR's Frank Langfitt explains why.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Jacob Rees-Mogg lives in the fashion you might imagine - in a nine-bedroom mansion in a tiny English village called West Harptree, about a three-hour drive west of London. He greets me in a gray double-breasted suit.

REES-MOGG: Oh, hello...

LANGFITT: I'm Frank with National Public Radio.

REES-MOGG: It's very good of you to come. We'll go, I think, right to the top of the house.

LANGFITT: Lovely. Thank you for...

Most politicians would try to hide such a privileged background. Not Rees-Mogg, who developed an interest in politics through his father, William, who edited The Times of London.

REES-MOGG: My father knew Margaret Thatcher for about - it was nearly 60 years. They were at Oxford together. So OK...

LANGFITT: Rees-Mogg stands well to the right on the political spectrum here. He supports the U.K. leaving the European Union, known as Brexit. He's also a Catholic who opposes same-sex marriage. The British press has documented his many posh traits. As we stroll through his walled English garden, I check stories I've read about his first campaign.

It was said that you went with your nanny on the campaign trail. Is that true?


LANGFITT: Well, why bring your nanny? I'm curious.

REES-MOGG: Well, Nanny's part of the family. She's worked for my family for nearly 52 years and is now looking after my six children.

LANGFITT: And it was also said that you'd driven a Bentley around.

REES-MOGG: Which was not true. I have got a Bentley, but I didn't campaign in it. I don't know that I can show it to you...

LANGFITT: What did you drive?

REES-MOGG: I drove my mother's old Mercedes.

LANGFITT: Back in London, near Big Ben, I met up with Anne Sutherland. She's a 27-year-old Rees-Mogg fan who helped set up a Ready for Mogg website, which she says has brought in more than 20,000 signatures supporting him to lead the Conservative Party and become prime minister. Sutherland says Rees-Mogg has a quality most politicians lack these days - authenticity.

ANNE SUTHERLAND: I like the fact that he's true to who he is and he's not changing his look or his attitude or his policies just because it might not please someone.

LANGFITT: Rees-Mogg has been all over the British newspapers in recent days discussing his views while insisting he's not seeking the job. Steven Fielding says Rees-Mogg's popularity reflects the country's topsy-turvy landscape. Fielding teaches British political history at the University of Nottingham.

STEVEN FIELDING: He's a figure of - I think of certainty in a political world where things are in flux. And I think some people find that extremely compelling and attractive.

LANGFITT: Rees-Mogg is quick to poke fun at his own image. His first tweet was in Latin. But he thinks his real appeal lies in a consistent political vision. Rees-Mogg wants to leave the European Union to give Britain's Parliament more control over making laws. He also wants lower taxes.

REES-MOGG: Because it's your money to start with. In my view, you will spend your money better than I can spend it for you.

LANGFITT: And Rees-Mogg thinks the public has lost its taste for slick centrist politicians.

REES-MOGG: People are now looking perhaps back more to where Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were leaders of people who, yes, of course they've got to be good at the PR. And Ronald Reagan was brilliant at it. But they have to believe in something. They have to be driven by something.

LANGFITT: Rees-Mogg's persona often draws smiles, but critics say his views are nothing to laugh about. Michael Segalov cites his position on climate change. For instance, Rees-Mogg would rather use engineering to adapt to rising sea levels than limit energy consumption. Segalov is news editor at London's Huck magazine, which covers radical culture.

MICHAEL SEGALOV: If he were to be the next prime minister, I think it would be disastrous. Like, let's not kid ourselves that the views he holds are regressive.

LANGFITT: The bookie Paddy Power gives Rees-Mogg 6-1 odds to replace Theresa May atop the Conservative Party. That assessment seems generous. Rees-Mogg is just an ordinary member of Parliament with no cabinet experience. But these days in Britain's turbulent politics, almost anything seems possible. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, West Harptree, England.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEIRUT'S "AS NEEDED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.