Jacob Rees-Mogg helped bring down Theresa May. So what IS he up to now? JASON GROVES analyses the National Insurance rise backlash
Jacob Rees-Mogg has form in ousting prime ministers – just ask Theresa May.
The millionaire Old Etonian led an abortive coup against the former prime minister in 2018 which failed at the time but triggered a chain of events that saw her forced from office a few months later.
So the revelation he has been agitating against a key government policy set tongues wagging at Westminster today – just what is Jacob up to now?
The Commons leader used a Cabinet discussion on the cost-of-living crisis on Wednesday to demand a rethink of the planned national insurance hike in April.
The controversial 1.25 per cent rise is designed to provide £12billion a year to help clear NHS waiting lists and, eventually, deliver on the PM’s pledge to tackle the social care crisis.
But it also involves breaking the Tory manifesto and risks triggering another blow to family finances just a month before critical local elections.
Mr Rees-Mogg suggested that, whatever the needs of the NHS, another tax raid could not be justified at this time.
Downing Street considers Rees-Mogg to be one of the PM’s most loyal ministers – he has told MPs privately that potential successors like Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are ‘mad’ to be manoeuvring now against a Prime Minister he believes will be in place for years.
Wouldn’t it be more ‘frugal and responsible’ to look for savings in public spending before asking hard-pressed families to open their wallets again, he asked?
Couldn’t the vast army of civil servants be trimmed, particularly given the questionable productivity of many of those ‘working from home’?
Mr Rees-Mogg has also made little secret of his unhappiness with the imposition of heavy-handed Covid curbs over the last two years. He opposed the introduction of Plan B and was tipped by some to follow Lord Frost out of the Cabinet at the end of last year.
Some would say he was already living on borrowed time – having advised the PM to attempt a disastrous defence of Owen Paterson over sleaze allegations, which ended up dragging the whole government into disrepute.
But allies of Mr Rees-Mogg insist he is much happier with the general direction of government policy since the PM took the ‘bold’ decision not to impose further Covid curbs over Christmas.
Downing Street also considers him to be one of the PM’s most loyal ministers and he has told MPs privately that potential successors like Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are ‘mad’ to be manoeuvring now against a Prime Minister he believes will be in place for years.
On this occasion, it appears Mr Rees-Mogg has simply spied an opportunity to reopen a case he has been making for months – and one he believes holds true to traditional low-tax Toryism.
The Commons leader was one of only three ministers to speak out against the tax rise at the original Cabinet discussion last September, alongside Lord Frost and Miss Truss. The decision went against him and he accepted it in public.
But with the cost-of-living crisis now rising towards the top of the political agenda, he appears to have spotted a chance to reopen a matter that had been settled.
And, following last month’s stormy Cabinet meeting over Covid curbs, senior ministers feel more emboldened to speak up. For the first two years of his administration, Boris Johnson’s Cabinet meetings have often been little more than a rubber-stamping exercise, with ministers often reading from prepared scripts.
But with the PM weakened politically, and the Cabinet able to claim it has helped guide him back towards the Tory party’s instincts on Covid, senior ministers are feeling empowered.
Mr Rees-Mogg is not plotting another coup. But his intervention is a sign the PM might have to get used to paying more attention to his ministers… which may be no bad thing.