A bold announcement, then, from parodical content provider GB News, that it is branching out into character comedy with a new show to be hosted by arguably the country’s most significant cultural creation of the last 20 years: Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The very middle-class son of a very middle-class newspaper editor, he has been honing his PG Wodehouse cosplay character role under the name of Jacob Rees-Mogg for all of his child and adult life, neither of which are distinguishable from the other. (His own mother even once said to me: “We’re not posh. We don’t know why he’s like he is.’” And nor did his contemporaries at Eton.)
To land his own show is a major coup. The name of Jacob Rees-Mogg can now be whispered alongside Alan Partridge, Larry Sanders and Keith Lemon.
No one can say it wasn’t coming. Look again at the clip from Da Ali G Show, first broadcast in 1999 – in which Sacha Baron Cohen interviews Jacob Rees-Mogg on the subject of “class” – and it’s clear to see that there are two performers, right at the top of their game and absolutely destined for the big time.
Details of what to expect have not been made entirely clear, other than the channel’s editorial director Mick Booker speaking of Rees-Mogg’s “authoritative voice and trademark common sense.”
As ever, it’s hard to know where to begin. Rees-Mogg did have an authoritative voice, once upon a time. His path to national attention was greatly assisted by his rare ability to speak in easily quotable sentences, a polite, affable nature and a tendency just to say “yes” to things. In his early backbench days he was, quite rightly, regarded by David Cameron as something of a wild eccentric with absolutely nothing to bring to the serious job of government. But when he stood up in the House of Commons it was usually to say something that was worth listening to.
It is unfortunate, almost Aesopian, that a man who has tried so hard to make himself appear unserious should find himself taken seriously, and only revealed to be so very unserious by the serious job of government.
Yes, if Jacob Rees-Mogg’s “trademark common sense” is to be brought to GB News, viewers may find themselves facing a few nasty surprises. In 13 years and counting in Westminster, Jacob Rees-Mogg has only done two things that will ever be even vaguely remembered. The first was refusing to countenance MPs voting from home in the middle of a pandemic, and so instead dreamed up a way to allow them to vote in person while maintaining social distancing. It took six hours, it snaked all the way around the parliamentary estate, and became known as the Rees-Mogg conga.
The justification, at the time, was that the people were expecting their MPs to “set an example” – and to do so they had to “be seen to be there”. It was pointed out, over and over again, the way to set an example is arguably not to tell the whole country they must work from home if it is possible to do so, and then very publicly doing the precise opposite yourself, and in the most ridiculous way you can imagine. But then, not everyone is so generously blessed with “trademark common sense”.
The other was when, having risen to the extraordinary heights of trade secretary, he concluded that the best of use of his time in the department that he nominally ran was to go around leaving passive aggressive notes on the desks of staff who were working from home, encouraging them to return to the office.
Some of us can also remember his strutting around one of the basement anterooms of Westminster, launching a report in which he declared that no deal Brexit would boost the British economy by “£1trn”, a figure that he had to disown the second anyone asked him anything about it.
Sadly, for us all, he is no longer minister for Brexit opportunities – a non-job created for him by Boris Johnson which was ended by Liz Truss, principally because, by his own admission, the main if not the only opportunity he discovered in his nine months in the job was the theoretical possibility of purchasing more powerful vacuum cleaners from South Korea.
If you had a bit of trademark common sense you might even say that’s a good thing, though it is mainly just an ironic one. That the only good thing to come out of Brexit is that it might become slightly easier to clean up mess.
But it’s not all bad news, is it. Jacob Rees-Mogg has got a TV show out of it after all. Though, in the words of that other great – though slightly more self-aware comic creation, David Brent – you’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you?