Jacob Rees-Mogg brushes off leadership talk – but does not rule out bid

Conservative backbencher says reports he will stand as next party leader are part of media’s silly season

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the backbench Tory traditionalist, has dismissed reports that he could be the next Conservative party leader as products of the August “silly season”.

“I wouldn’t put any money on it,” he told Radio 4’s Broadcasting House on Sunday, when asked why two Sunday newspapers were running stories, separately sourced, saying he would like to succeed Theresa May.

“I think it’s a reminder that it’s August. People don’t have a huge amount of pressing UK political news to write about, and therefore there’s this jolly stuff about me.”

But on Broadcasting House, and in comments to the two newspapers that covered his leadership prospects, Rees-Mogg declined to rule out standing as a candidate in the Tory leadership contest widely expected before the next general election.

The “silly season” is a newspaper term for the period in the summer when the relative lack of hard news leads to frivolous stories receiving more attention than they normally merit. The prospect of Rees-Mogg being prime minister could be seen as an example because he is an MP with no frontbench experience best known to the public generally for playing up to his image as a reactionary fogey.

But a poll of Conservative members for the ConservativeHome website last week found he was in second place, behind David Davis, the Brexit secretary, as their preferred next party leader. Rees-Mogg achieved this feat even though his name was not included in the survey and his supporters had to enter his name themselves in the “other – please specify” category.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader two years ago showed that being seen as a fringe candidate at Westminster is not fatal in a leadership contest if party members are unhappy with the establishment choices. Rees-Mogg has little in common with Corbyn, but both are credited with integrity and authenticity and both have had careers where they have put speaking out for what they believe in ahead of personal preferment.

The Mail on Sunday said Rees-Mogg had recently told the pro-Trump American academic Ted Malloch that he would like to be party leader. The Sunday Times ran a front-page story saying Rees-Mogg was “sounding out” colleagues about a leadership bid. It attributed this information to “friends” of the MP, but the paper also carried an interview with the MP on an inside page.

In on-the-record comments to both papers, Rees-Mogg strongly played down the prospect of becoming party leader - but did not fully rule out standing as a candidate.

In the Sunday Times he said: “I think if I threw my hat in the ring, my hat would be thrown back at me pretty quickly.”

“I said it is unrealistic for me to go from the backbenches to being leader,” he told the Mail on Sunday. “I am not a cabinet minister so it is hard to see how I could be a candidate. It is improbable bordering on impossible.”

Contributor

Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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