What is Rees-Mogg watching?

Rachel Malik

On 31 March, Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted a frame from a YouTube video of a recent speech by the far-right German politician Alice Weidel, with the message: ‘The AfD leader asks “Is it any wonder the British see bad faith behind every manoeuvre from Brussels?”’

In the replies to his tweet it is hard to find anything but anger and criticism from a range of overlapping constituencies (liberal, left, anti-racist) who seized on it to call him out and confirm what they know already: Rees-Mogg’s far-right sympathies and credentials. There is also a sense of frustration, variations of ‘how can this be happening?’

‘No, no no no no, look I’m not supporting the AfD,’ Rees-Mogg said in a radio interview on LBC yesterday. But: ‘I think it’s important people know that this is a strand of German political thinking. I don’t think retweeting is an endorsement of things that other people stand for. It’s just pointing out that there’s something interesting that is worth watching.’

Is Weidel’s speech worth watching? She argues that Brussels should have given Cameron what he asked for: ‘No more social welfare, immediately and for everyone’ (she pointedly steers clear of the word ‘immigration’). The brutal terms now being dealt to Britain, she says, are a way of ensuring French dominance, and will have a devastating effect on the German economy and the German taxpayer. Weidel presumes a hierarchy of nations both within Europe and outside it. After Britain’s exit, she argues, France will be able to rely on the support of ‘Club Med’ countries (places for Northern Europeans to holiday in, with a connotation of louche living) to outvote Germany and its Northern European allies, to advance its own centralising agenda. She regrets that Britain may be offered nothing more than the trading status of Paraguay or Papua New Guinea.

The scandal or shock of Rees-Mogg’s tweet doesn’t come from the words he quotes, or even from Weidel’s speech as a whole, unpleasant though it is. It comes, rather, from the dynamic between the utterance, who said it, and the ways it is recontextualised for different audiences. Rees-Mogg made a point of mentioning on LBC that Weidel was addressing the Bundestag. In other words, he implied, she was speaking in a legitimate context and as an elected representative. Her discourse is approved, or at least permitted, by the institutions of German democracy.

The MP for North East Somerset has made something of a cult of his eccentricity and if he wants to spend his Sundays watching Bundestag debates on YouTube, I’ve no desire to stop him. But the link he supplies in his tweet is not to the Bundestag’s official YouTube channel. It is to a channel made up of speeches, party political broadcasts and ads from far-right European parties, translated into English with approving headings (‘BBC Blackwashing British History’, ‘Brilliant 3 minute speech by Marion Le Pen’, ‘No Country for Straight White Men’, ‘Powerful video about Italy’s demographic and identity crisis’, and a lot of speeches from the AfD). It’s clear from the comments below the video that Weidel is a popular and familiar figure for the channel’s British viewers: ‘We need her in Britain’; ‘What a fantastic speech. Thatcherian. We need someone like this’; ‘Thank you Dr Weidel, a true friend to Britain. Hope you’re not too late to help us.’

The channel is clearly a ‘safe space’ for the far right; there are very few dissenting voices. Rees-Mogg’s tweet does two lots of work. First, it is guaranteed to anger and provoke anyone concerned about the rise of the far right in British politics. Second, Rees-Mogg is talking to the people who watch far-right YouTube channels. He isn’t telling them what to watch; they know that already. He’s telling them he’s watching it too.


  • 2 April 2019 at 7:14pm
    Neil Foxlee says:
    Rees-Mogg didn't tweet a frame from the video, but a link to the (subtitled) video itself (see ). A Guardian article by Die Welt journalist Alan Posener, published concurrently with this piece, provides some essential background on Weidel ( ). One wonders who the "Cassius" behind the YouTube channel is, and who provides all the translations.

  • 2 April 2019 at 7:50pm
    Joe Morison says:
    Rees-Mogg likes, on the one hand, to cultivate an image of genteel civility while, on the other, supporting boorish thugs like Trump and Johnson; he’s the worst sort of hypocrite. On top of that is the ridiculousness of someone so middle class going to such lengths to become upper class - the irony, as Proust fans will appreciate, is that to the extent he succeeds he is all Courvoisier and not remotely Guermantes.

    • 2 April 2019 at 9:00pm
      Neil Foxlee says: @ Joe Morison
      Rees-Mogg is surely upper middle-class rather than middle-class, while Proust's Adalbert de Courvoisier is a viscount (as compared to the Duc de Guermantes). As a Proust fan myself, I must confess that I'd forgotten about Courvoisier. I was consoled, however, by finding that he only appears twice in La Recherche. A French website devoted to Proust's characters states: "Apparemment un parfait époux il est en fait inverti et se rend dans le bordel de Jupien sans savoir que Charlus [his cousin] s’y trouve aussi" (

      Beyond all this fiddle, Rees-Mogg's apparent flirtation with the far right is deeply disturbing. Another illuminating article, meanwhile, suggests that his position on Brexit is linked to the ideas of his late father, former Times editor William Rees-Mogg: see .

    • 3 April 2019 at 4:20am
      Joe Morison says: @ Neil Foxlee
      What a quintessentially English debate, Neil. I remember a Greek friend being astonished to hear someone describe themself as upper middle class whereas the English understand precisely George Orwell’s description of himself as lower upper middle class. I’d say to your comment that while JRM (as his Telegraph reading fans liked to call him until his ‘treason’ of voting for May’s deal last week - hell hath no fury like a Brextremist betrayed) is from the upper middle class, that class is indubitably part of the middle class. As for the Courvoisiers, I’ll leave you with Proust’s words:

      [T]he Courvoisiers, a rival branch of the family and, though from as noble stock as the Guermantes [...] their opposite in every sense. Not only did the Courvoisiers not assign to intelligence the same importance as the Guermantes, they had a different notion of what it was. For a Guermantes (even a stupid one), to be intelligent meant to have a scathing tongue, to be capable of making tart comments, of not taking no for an answer; it also meant the ability to hold one’s own in painting, music and architecture alike, and to speak English. The Courvoisiers had a less exalted notion of intelligence and, unless one belonged to their world, being intelligent came near to meaning ‘having probably murdered one’s parents’. For them intelligence was the sort of burglar’s jemmy by means of which people one did not know from Adam forced their way in to the most distinguished salons, and the Courvoisiers knew to their cost that you always ended up rueing the day you allowed people of ‘that sort’ into your circle. The most trivial statements made by intelligent people outside the ‘society’ world met with the Courvoisiers’ systematic distrust. [...] Yet in a sense, the Courvoisiers, more than the Guermantes, preserved the integrity of the titled class, through both the narrowness of their minds and the malevolence of their hearts.

    • 3 April 2019 at 8:35am
      Neil Foxlee says: @ Joe Morison
      Thank you for the marvellous quotation, Joe. The irony is, however, that your original reference to Rees-Mogg as "all Courvoisier" is even more recondite than his own dig at his fellow MP Nick Boles for making a “a characteristically Wykehamist point: highly intelligent, but fundamentally wrong.”

      How quintessentially LRB ;-).

    • 3 April 2019 at 10:28am
      JamesBaldwin says: @ Neil Foxlee
      I'm not sure what the precise term is, but the main point is that Mogg pretends to be posher than he is, and so real posh people sneer at him, often in public. He is either too self-absorbed to notice, or he doesn't care because the posh persona is simply an act he puts on to fool voters.

      Alternatively he could have delusion similar to Donald Trump's belief that he is intelligent and good at golf, where he is self-consciously deceptive (as when he cheats at golf), but also seems to genuinely believe it. I'm not quite sure how this works psychologically: possibly the self-belief combines with a conviction that there is a giant global conspiracy to misrepresent him, such that he has to deceive and cheat in order to show people that he is posh/intelligent/good at golf, which is actually the truth. This model would fit the ERG approach to Brexit.

  • 3 April 2019 at 4:18pm
    Marmaduke Jinks says:
    I have no time for JR-M nor, as it happens, for Jeremy Corbyn. I do, however, from time to time log into websites from both right & left; some of them, to me, seem extreme, on both wings.
    Does that say anything about my politics?
    (Incidentally, I never re-tweet, or ‘like’ or forward any articles from said websites firstly because I don’t know how to and secondly because I don’t have any acquaintances that would be remotely interested in them).

  • 16 April 2019 at 3:34pm
    Stephen Adamson says:
    What a terrible debate - arguing about Proust (and I am a fan of his too). The real issue is that this shows that JR-M is not the eccentric, old-fashioned by basically decent British gentleman that some people think he is, but a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

  • 17 April 2019 at 12:23pm
    JTB says:
    He is deliciously absurd, for sure, but he reminds me of an American politician--Michelle Bachmann--who lost her seat in congress several years ago. Married to a psychologist who promotes gay-conversion therapy, she, like her husband, is what in this country is termed "a deeply religious Christian," code for fringe-dwelling evangelical, usually Baptist. Bachmann famously claimed that the framers of the constitution, many slave owners, "worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States," thus implying that Jefferson and Lincoln were contemporaries. She resurfaced over the past weekend, claiming this time that "In my lifetime I have never seen a more biblical president than I have seen in Donald Trump.” In other words, she is and was as absurd as Rees-Moog, but not easily dismissed. because, in the current harebrained religious climate in the United States, she is dangerous. Many like her believe that Trump is our present historical moment's version of the Biblical King Cyrus, in this case, God's way of bringing on the apolcalypse. R-M is, as I understand it, a Catholic who attends an annual missa solemnis celebrating the beheading of Charles I. As I said to a British colleague of mine a week or so ago, I went to a Jesuit high-school with guys like this, outwardly pious and many very intelligent. But nibbling at the edges of their intelligence was bigotry clothed in schoolyard pieties or in cultural clichés ("boys will be boys"). Their bigotry's amplitude was huge, covering other races, ethnicities, and--naturally--other religions. And it was underwritten in many cases by nothing but rage, against what I doubt they knew. They would, as somebody might have put it, climbed a mountain to punch an echo; they're not only still with us, they are in charge.

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