“I know in an instant if that man could snatch away my rights, he would”- Bath Time reports from the ‘MoggOFF’ event

As Jacob Rees-Mogg (known forthwith as JRM) visited our campus for a speaker event, there were no sleeping dragons amongst the left-wing progressive factions of the student community. Organised by nine various diversity and campaign groups at the University, the ‘MoggOFF’ consisted of a protest speaker event on our Chancellors Green, intentionally taking place at the same time as the JRM talk (find more about the intention of the event here).

Over 150 attendees gathered around a platform, many with posters either expressing their identity in a profound and empowering way or adversely their passionate objection to JRM’s policies (as displayed below). We first heard from Thomas Heath, Chancellor of BULU (Bath University Left Union), who gave an impassioned speech, denoting the corrupt nature of the politician and his rise to fame as the ‘‘token high tory’’, as well as the methods in which JRM takes advantage of a corrupt economic system. Heath described how his activities go beyond pure antagonism or a political game, but cause harm, violate rights and cause untold sufferings in corners of the world that one might not think at first would be distinctly touched by those involved in UK politics. In Heath’s own words, JRM “is not just a run of the mill Tory MP, he is so much more dangerous”.

A poster displayed at the ‘MoggOFF’ event

Throughout the ‘MoggOFF’ event, we listened to a speaker from each group involved in the organisation of the event. What was arguably more profound than anything was how they each operated like a spider’s web of opposition, enacting their refutation of JRM’s policies and values in the way in which they specifically harmed and violated the rights of those in each of their organisations. The LGBT society speaker, Ishita Khattar, spoke eloquently about how JRM’s policies have disturbed the rights of LGBTQ+ people, whether it is against same-sex marriage or for conversion therapy. Ishita echoed Thomas’ sentiment, emphasising the fact that both JRM’s rising influence within our present government and his attitude towards many social laws warmly embraced by LGBTQ+ mean that we certainly shouldn’t take our rights for granted while such figures remain within positions of power. 

Pez Woods spoke on behalf of the Feminism and Gender Equality Society, which was a poignant moment at the event. Woods relented that “if he (JRM) had it his way, women would not have bodily autonomy or access to abortions”, presenting the man as crooked in a way that can be very much defined as showing a hatred towards women. Woods reported that this ranges from JRM’s support of colleagues fighting sexual allegations to an incredibly disturbing conversation in which he expressed a positive attitude towards gang rape, or his repulsion towards legal abortions in the UK despite admitting that his firm sold abortion pills in Indonesia. 

I would like to say that I believe all the speakers were outstanding and they presented themselves and their viewpoints most eloquently, displaying the nature in which their organisation fit into the puzzle of the groups that had helped bring the ‘MoggOFF’ to fruition. Whether it was Ulla Alekse speaking on behalf of Amnesty about JRM’s abysmal human rights record, particularly relevant in the present context of UK poverty levels being condemned as violating international law, or Eesha Ganesh (Bath Race Equality Group) mentioning the urgency of the racial equality charter and our present government’s attempts to eradicate it, despite its necessity in providing educational equality for ethnic minorities. Ben Hounsell, on behalf of People & Planet, attacked JRM’s scepticism over climate change and misaligned priorities within the context of fossil fuel investment. Callum Clafferty of the University of Bath Greens gave one of the most policy-driven talks of all, crucially referring to how the Tories are “stirring up a culture war by targeting trans people”, a move that has significantly increased instances of transphobia within the UK in the last 5 years, as well JRM’s ignorance towards those in poverty, describing him as a “millionaire Etonian who will never have to truly understand the consequences of his terrible voting record”.  

Amongst the attendees, the sentiment of those speaking at the event was very much reciprocated. One attendee we spoke to defined their attendance as a “moral opposition to what Jacob Rees-Mogg stands for”, calling JRM’s language “completely unhealthy, immoral, and dangerous“. In particular, they implied they were significantly in opposition to his views on LGBT+ and abortion issues. Another, an international student that had only been briefly introduced to British politics remarked “I’ve heard that Jacob Rees-Mogg is against gay marriage. Sounds like a clown to me”. 

For at least some of the attendees, however, there remained a ray of optimism. One told me that they had “never been to such an event like this before” but felt “excited” about their introduction to the world of political activism. “A peaceful movement of people like this can bring so much change, even if it is slow (…) it’s really nice to see so many people putting so much effort into this event and it’s lovely to get to be a part of this”. 

We spoke to Blake Walker, Co-Chair of the LGBTQ+ society and principal organiser, on the event’s underlying objectives:

“I think because if there was nothing here, and there was absolutely no response to the fact that somebody with Jacob Rees-Mogg’s opinions was speaking on campus, it would be possible that some people would think that they were the only ones who cared about it. I can imagine that would be an incredibly isolating feeling. We were contacted by members who were really upset about it. It’s really tricky at the moment to know that there’s a presence of people who care about minority groups, especially with this rhetoric rife in the media. That’s why, on a personal level, I was really keen to have some sort of presence near the event that was happening; people who are wandering by can see the community we have.

 We also asked how they believe this event might impact future political activism at the University of Bath:

We’ll definitely keep having conversations and hopefully form some sort of space where people can participate in politics. My perception of this uni is that it’s been quite apathetic at times. If you look at Manchester, they’re occupying buildings every other week. Maybe not every other week, but we’re more likely to throw some biscuits at some windows like back in 2017. I’m really keen to increase our presence so we can have a larger impact within this community.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring members of the ‘MoggOFF’ movement was Rosie Wintel, who described herself to Bath Time “as being just a theatre kid with a conscience”. When asked by Campus TV about the reasons behind her presence at the event, she answered quite compellingly: “How bad is it to say that I just want to retain my rights (…) I’m lesbian, I’m disabled, I’m a woman. I know in an instant if that man could snatch away my rights, he (JRM) would.” With an attitude that touched on the very core of student activism as well as one that I found very inspiring, Rosie felt like she had been ushered to action by the dreadful circumstances, “I can’t stand by and do nothing whilst he (JRM) is in that building trying to get people to love conservatism’“.  Only time will tell whether this attitude of political initiative will rub off on the “political apathy” found at our university. 

Throughout the ‘MoggOFF’, the man behind the caricature that was used to advertise the event was presented to the world in true horror-story form, and in many of the speeches, one could sense the disgust lingering in the air. JRM allegedly signified his support for the ‘MoggOFF’, but one cannot help but question why anyone with any form of empathy for his fellow human would accept the notion of hundreds of people coming together purely out of total revile for your character and influence on the world. Arguably this was one of the more condemning aspects of JRM’s visit to our university, a figure that was allegedly a devoted, pious man, but what was ever so more apparent was the hollowness of his soul.  He has claimed to have never cried in his adult life, and as one attendee put it: “You’d think he’d at least acknowledge that he can feel things in case his children ever needed him. It’s slightly concerning.

It is perhaps right to leave this article with one conclusive message to those who champion JRM’s policy and ideas: is empathy not an essential characteristic in a political leader? Why would you ever want someone who celebrates their lack of emotion to make decisions that impact millions of people?

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