Why the Left cannot afford to misjudge Jacob Rees-Mogg – The Telegraph

The new Business Secretary is far from the pantomime villain his political enemies portray him to be
As night follows day, the outcry at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appointment as Business Secretary was both dramatic and predictable.
Horrified at his criticisms of “climate alarmism”, green campaigners denounced his promotion as “dangerous, radical madness”.
It was just the latest example of Rees-Mogg’s ability to upset activists, following a political career that has seen him become something of a bête noire of left-wing opinion.
Yet those who know the Conservative minister, an ardent Thatcherite who traded stocks when he was just 12 years old, claim Liz Truss’s decision to hand him the business brief is a canny one.
While better known for his constitutional chops and Brexit zeal, he was a successful fund manager in his own right before entering politics and has long coveted the chance to put his pro-business views into practice.
And with the Prime Minister’s top priorities including business reform and tackling the energy crisis, he is now on the front line in her administration’s battle to revamp Britain’s economy.
“It’s a chance to put his money where his mouth is,” one insider says.
“For a long time, Brexiteers like Jacob have been saying that regulations – not least those we took from the European Union – have been holding us back and stifling the economy.
“He’s now been given a brief by the PM to combine the Brexit opportunities portfolio with the business department, so it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity.”
Since taking over the role from Kwasi Kwarteng (who was himself promoted to Chancellor), the biggest item by far in Rees-Mogg’s in-tray has been energy.
His department will be in charge of implementing this winter’s massive bills support package for households, announced by Truss just hours before Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
And though a mourning period for the former monarch subsequently curtailed much government business until Tuesday at the earliest, officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) have been quietly beavering away in anticipation of a flurry of activity when things get going again.
That has already led to Rees-Mogg reportedly pausing work on the energy security bill going through Parliament so officials can prioritise emergency support for businesses instead.
And as soon as next week, he is expected to launch a licensing round for North Sea oil and gas that the industry hopes will yield as many as 150 new permits, shoring up Britain’s domestic energy supplies.
That follows a meeting Rees-Mogg held with oil and gas firms last month, when he was widely tipped for business secretary but not formally in post.
Those present left impressed, and convinced that he will oppose any further windfall taxes, according to one energy industry source.
“He was enthusiastic and interested in the details,” the source added.
“He wants to encourage investment and recognises that most of the funding for the green transition is going to come from existing oil and gas companies.”
However, Rees-Mogg’s “pragmatic” views on energy have horrified supporters of green power, who fear he will covertly seek to unpick the transition towards “net zero” carbon emissions.
“2050 is a long way off,” Rees-Mogg told LBC radio earlier this year. “We’re not trying to become net zero tomorrow. We’re going to need fossil fuels in the interim.”
He has argued for producing more oil and gas domestically rather than importing it from abroad – memorably calling for “every last cubic inch” of gas to be extracted from the North Sea – and says the potential for commercial fracking in Britain should be explored.
It prompted Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, to brand him a “climate dinosaur” earlier this month.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow climate change secretary, also claimed Rees-Mogg was “stuck in the past”.
Yet for all the hand-wringing, an insider dismisses claims that he will seek to sabotage net zero as “silly”.
The business secretary is committed to net zero but believes it must be “compatible with growth, new technology and living standards”, they say.
Also significant is the fact Rees-Mogg, like Kwarteng, supports the push to build a new generation of nuclear power stations that was started at BEIS under Boris Johnson.
When it comes to his wider aims, the avowed Brexiteer has vowed to make his new fiefdom “the department for growth” and is widely expected to embark on a bonfire of red tape.
That is expected to cover everything from rules that unnecessarily burden small businesses to those getting in the way of developers delivering more new homes.
His ambitions also extend to competition policy and whether it has been too interventionist in recent years, reflecting his background in the private sector.
The son of Gillian Morris and William Rees-Mogg, the former editor of The Times newspaper, he is estimated to have amassed a fortune of more than £100m, according to Spear’s Wealth Management, including his wife Lady Helena de Chair’s expected inheritance.
After attending Trinity College, Oxford, he worked for investment funds in Mayfair and Hong Kong before returning to Britain to co-found his own venture, Somerset Capital Management with Dominic Johnson.
He no longer has any role at the company, which manages billions of pounds for investors, but remains a shareholder, receiving dividends.
But Johnson, who did not comment for this article, has said his friend and business partner always “had a very strong calling to bring to bear his capitalise, free market ideas” in politics as well.
He lent his Brexit credentials to the 2019 Tory leadership bid of Boris Johnson, who as Prime Minister made Rees-Mogg leader of the House of Commons and then minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiencies.
Former Conservative MP Louise Mensch, a close friend and Oxford contemporary, says that until now Rees-Mogg has never had a real chance to prove himself.
“I was always surprised Boris didn’t promote him to a more substantial job and I think he’ll do a very good job at business,” she says.
She describes the new Business Secretary as authentic, self-deprecating and often mischievous – a key reason he has so often landed himself in hot water.
“Sometimes he can’t help pulling people’s legs. But Jacob is pragmatic – if the facts change, he changes his mind,” she says
In a warning to businesses, however, Mensch predicts Rees-Mogg will give short shrift to lobbyists.
He is understood to be less keen on the regular meetings Kwarteng previously held with the likes of the Confederation of British Industry, The Telegraph understands, and prefers to be given succinct and precise briefings.
“He may be very polite, he may be very courteous, but underneath there is a razor sharp mind,” Mensch adds. “He is simply not susceptible to lobbying.”
So how can businesses hope to charm their new patron? Multiple sources confirm that Rees-Mogg’s one weakness remains his sweet tooth – and more specifically his penchant for Cadbury Creme Eggs, so much that Mensch used to post the chocolates to him when he lived in Hong Kong in the 1990s.
That information could prove useful to green campaigners struggling to get a meeting, although – by Rees-Mogg’s own admission – those worrying he will make truly radical policy changes may be doing so unnecessarily.
Asked to describe what “Moggtopia” would look like in a BBC interview, he responded by emphasising an approach that would resonate with Conservatives through the ages.
“You have to try and improve things at the margin,” he said, “rather than thinking you can build a Jerusalem.”
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