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Look What the Mogg’s Dragged In: Personal reflections on Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg at the University of Bath campus 

Look What the Mogg’s Dragged In

There is little I fear more than an echo chamber; I should not think that many felt they were sat in one on the Friday afternoon that Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke in CB 1.10. As someone who relishes debate, I was eager to hear what this prominent and controversial MP had to say in the name of conservatism. There are many of his views to which I object, but I would be dishonest in saying that I was not curious to hear how he would justify his opinions in person, and I would be more than a little disappointed if he had not come out with something characteristically and utterly outrageous. I suppose that in this respect I must thank Jacob Rees-Mogg, for he certainly delivered the complete and unabridged ‘Mogg experience’. Although he did not sway me on any of the heavy topics discussed – including but not exclusive to abortion, same-sex marriage, and the liberal conservative’s management of the free market – the points he raised have helped me to prune my opinions and widen my questioning of political issues, namely my stance on abortion and religion’s place in politics.

Whilst I welcomed the opportunity to see Jacob Rees-Mogg (JRM) speak in person, I know that I stand amongst a minority in our student community with this attitude. His extreme and often offensive views on same-sex marriage, abortion law and immigration in the UK are more than enough to make many of us feel uncomfortable about platforming this politician at our university. Whilst I stand firmly in the camp that the only dangerous conversation is the one that censors a perspective, I became increasingly aware of the implications of a student body inviting JRM to our university as I discussed the talk with my friends and peers. The Bath University Conservative Association (BUCA) gave his extreme (and what some deem ‘dangerous’) views a platform at the university, and whilst freedom of speech must not be hindered, should we not be cautious about which political messages are invited into our institution?

My peers mostly agreed that we should be especially wary of those political messages that antagonise and perhaps alienate specific groups of students. I must confess that I do not align myself with this sentiment. We should not avoid conflicts of opinion: indeed, I believe that conflict is key in moulding and maintaining our political opinions and so long as the conflict is not malicious or harmful, it is a beneficial opportunity for all parties involved. It certainly would not appear that the invited speaker is one to shy away from conflict. JRM was “not here just to answer easy questions”, but embraced the more controversial questions and even encouraged us to “always go for it” in advocacy of the “testing of arguments”. The room could not suppress a chuckle when this several-minute-long preamble followed a pointed question on trans-men competing in women’s sports, but nevertheless, I agree with his sentiment – and he did eventually provide us with a relevant answer. 

Perhaps I am more supportive of the theatre of politics than most, but without opposition, views become unquestioned norms. How are we to regulate our beliefs without checks and balances? Certainly, we must be judicious about whom we platform, but we should welcome challenges to our discourse also. 

Selecting the most challenging of JRM’s views is a challenge in itself, but his infamous declaration that abortion is a “cult of death”, which he once again adamantly defended at this event, comes within arms-reach of the biscuit. Despite his support for individuals to be “free to do what [they] choose as long as it is practical”, Mogg is opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. This is where Mogg’s politics mingles with his Catholic beliefs: he believes that life starts at conception and thus to abort is to murder. Paradoxically, he opened the talk by stating that the politician’s role is that of the “enabler” and thus it is his duty to enable what individuals freely choose to do. If a patient chooses to have an abortion, is it not his duty to enable that choice? Why is it that his religious stance now trumps his duty as a politician? Naturally, he is welcome to a personal objection, but if he truly believes that his role as an MP is to enable what the people want, then he is surely obliged to set aside his own religious beliefs.

Yet, what I may declare purely religious is evidently moral for Jacob Rees-Mogg, who did raise one point on the topic that has forced me to reopen my own personal book on abortion morality. The politician brought up the case of six states in the US that currently have no limit imposed on how far into pregnancy abortion is allowed – these are: Alaska; Colorado; Oregon; New Mexico; New Jersey; and Vermont. Washington D.C. also has the same law. This means that a foetus can be aborted at any time throughout a pregnancy.

Whilst I would not go as far as to agree with Mogg’s opinion that this form of legislation is a “cult of death”, I cannot deny that this legislation makes me uncomfortable. I would class a viable foetus as a life, and therein is the root of my freshly unearthed moral quandary: how are we justifying one life over another? This is not to say that this justification is unreachable, simply that I am unsure how it can be reached – I pose this question as much to you as I do to myself.

You might, at this point, be quick to notice an irony in my thinking – why, if I deemed Mogg’s religious beliefs irrelevant to politics, are my moral knots relevant? Well, I still fundamentally believe that my own views should not affect the individual freedoms of others, and so this is how I arrive at the conclusion that Mogg should put aside his opposition to abortion if the people he serves want access to it. But morality and politics are inseparable. I do not, for instance, believe that if my neighbour’s psychotic child wants to drown kittens in the back garden we should allow Sadistic Syd to go gung-ho on the poor little moggies. Are some moral principles universally valid in politics and lawmaking, and others not? If so, why? In my opinion, it’s a question of the personal nature of the issue at hand: Syd will not be personally harmed if he cannot meet his kitten-killing quota, but a patient may be harmed if they cannot access a legal abortion. To bring this meandering monologue back from the hypothetical, Mogg can oppose abortion with every Catholic bone in his body, but this will never give him legitimate standing to prevent others from accessing it – especially as his predominant role as an “enabler” of the consensus.

Much like the length of this piece, my expectations of seeing Jacob Rees-Mogg speak were greatly exceeded. It would be fair to say that the event was useful: I now have a greater understanding of the grounding for his views and his defence for those that I disagree with were thought-provoking. I would declare this BUCA event productive and thus successful, and I would encourage individuals from every political creed to make use of similar opportunities.

By Eva Wigham

I was intrigued at getting the opportunity to listen to Jacob Rees-Mogg give a speech at the university, as someone who fundamentally disagrees with both his social and financial policies, as well as his stance on Brexit. My general impression of the event was that it was all very polite. He respected the opposition event and did not take offence to the questions he received from opposing viewpoints. His main speech mostly contained conservative ideological arguments with a sprinkling of policy. It felt more like an ideology lesson about Hobbes and Locke than an MP’s real-world policies.

However, this changed when the questions section began and became more grounded in the conversation. There were challenges from the audience, but Rees-Mogg welcomed these interactions and did not shy away from having these debates. He was respectful of people’s opinions, as one of his main talking points was the importance of being able to exercise freedom of speech and how conservatism left space for this freedom. However, hiding behind this notion of freedom of speech to suggest that abortion should not be available to women even if they have been raped seems rather backward in my opinion. Although Rees-Mogg took all the questions in his stride from gay rights to Brexit, to the economy, he didn’t convince me that his beliefs were any more appealing than when I walked in. He often danced around the questions without necessarily pinning down his response, which as the king of filibustering in Parliament has to be expected. At one point he went so far as to suggest that the COVID lockdowns were too heavy-handed because Boris Johnson had been manipulated through nudge theory by his advisors (enter the scapegoat of Dominic Cummings). This acted to take the blame away from Johnson for his Coronavirus policies, even though he was the Prime Minister. 

This event was well handled by Rees-Mogg, who complimented both the students and Bath University on their organisation of the event. He articulated his ideas intelligently, but it was still quite uncomfortable to hear about his right-wing social beliefs and the small state that he believes in. 

By Alex Bousfield

Having Sir Rees-Mogg as a guest on campus is an acceptable act of freedom of speech, allowing opinions to be heard peacefully and allowing us to educate ourselves about where we stand on the political spectrum by hearing from others we may not agree with. Hearing an MP speak, no matter what your political affiliation, is beneficial to understanding the opposition and being open-minded. I do not agree with Rees-Mogg’s political agenda and viewpoint and feel that I should not be subjected to those viewpoints, particularly if they are guided by religious principles with which I do not identify. Nevertheless, I agree that he has his freedom of religion and opinion, but it does not mean that as a politician, he can force it on me. I find the concept of applying religious beliefs to law while maintaining that the state and religion are separate is rather sketchy. Considering that the state is very much involved in marital affairs nowadays, the idea of state and religion being kept separate is rather hypocritical here and potentially reflects his own strong Catholic beliefs that marriage is a holy tradition between a man and a woman, which does not win him any brownie points among a more liberal student group. If marriage is supposed to be kept out of state hands, why should it be an MP who decides who should have a predominant say over the union itself? Surely you are no longer an “enabler” of free choice? And these are just a few of the gaping holes in his agenda…

What makes a politician more qualified than a doctor to have a say over my body and my womb if I require an abortion, in the case of rape specifically? What makes them more suitable in deciding on who I am allowed to compete as and who I am allowed to marry? If the freedom of the individual is such a crucial core value of conservatism, why do I find my freedoms reduced and not enabled? 

On the whole Rees-Mogg’s ideas were rather thought-provoking, as a political debate should be. Even though I do disagree with many of his policies and opinions, attempting to understand his point of view, as well as how he builds his defence was insightful, and made me more confident about my own perspectives and in challenging others on theirs.

By Louise Sadler

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