The next Conservative Party leadership election will see a “cast of thousands” run for the job but Jacob Rees-Mogg should not be one of them, the Tory MP in charge over overseeing any contest has said.
Sir Graham Brady, the influential chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said he doubted Rees-Mogg, a grassroots favourite to succeed Theresa May, could connect with the wider country.
“I really like Jacob,” he said when asked if Rees-Mogg was a “viable candidate” to become party leader. “Great guy. Brilliant speaker. Knows exactly what he thinks. He’s very often right.”
But confiding in young student Conservative activists at University College London (UCL) on Thursday evening, he added: “I don’t think that it would work. He brings a lot of fun to politics. A lot of style. He is very entertaining. Cheers everybody up. And there is a real serious point as well.
“But it’s one thing for a lot of members of the public, or the party, to think it’s great fun and admire him for never mincing his words and speaking 18th Century English.
“It’s another thing to see that translating to being the prime minister and connecting with the whole of the country. So no I don’t see it happening.”
Sir Graham’s comments were revealed in a recording of the meeting obtained by HuffPost UK.
Rees-Mogg emerged as an unlikely leadership frontrunner over the summer and was the main attraction during the Tory conference in October - with younger activists swarming to his events.
As 1922 chairman, Sir Graham would be the returning officer in any leadership contest just as he was during the race to replace David Cameron.
He told the BBC’s Daily Politics last week that the role meant he “really couldn’t express a preference” for who should be the next party leader.
Speaking to the students, Sir Graham rubbished the idea the party would unite behind one candidate in then next contest.
“I have colleagues who say to me if we have another leadership election we’ve got to make sure there’s just one candidate. We can’t,” he said.
“My instinct is that if there is a leadership election in the next few years you could have cast of thousands. I don’t see anyone saying ‘so-and-so is evidently the best person, we are all going to step aside’.”
Sir Graham also said May had made a mistake in promoting Gavin Williamson from Chief Whip to defence secretary last year.
“Gavin’s a capable person. I wasn’t asked for advice. Had I been asked for advice, my advice would have been, ‘he’s doing a good job as Chief Whip, keep him there’,” he said.
“I can understand why he might have wanted to move on. But I thought he was doing a good job and probably should have stayed.
Sir Graham said it would be better if the Chief Whip was an older MP “in their last government job” who had “no personal ambition”.
Speaking about Williamson, he added: “If you have people who are early in their careers and might seek to have a number of other positions, it’s difficult resist recommending yourself for post that you quite like.”
Sir Graham, who was recently given his knighthood in the New Year Honours list, said May had a “huge number of qualities” but “she’s also got some things she doesn’t do quite as well”.
“This emerged in the general election campaign. Before then there was this great honeymoon period where everybody said Thersa May is Mother Teresa and is most remarkable prime minster we have every had, a combination of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill and Disraeli. I never thought that was true,” he said.
“We then went through that dreadful general election campaign where everything that could possibly be done wrong, was done wrong. And in-spite of that we emerged having won 2.3 million more votes than we did two years before.
“And yet suddenly Theresa May was the worst possible prime we have ever had and she was a combination of the Kray twins and Al Capone - only less effective. Neither of these things is true.”
Sir Graham also warned the young Tory activists that the party could be facing a more “palatable” Labour leader in 2022 because Jeremy Corbyn was so old.
“Jeremy Corbyn is 68, John McDonnell is 69,” he said. “It’s entirely possible, you might even say likely, if this parliament runs another four years, Jeremy Corbyn won’t be leading the Labour Party.
“I can have a nice chat with Angela Rayner. She is far more personable than most of the Labour leadership. I couldn’t ever vote for her. But she’s, I would say, more electable probably. She is certainly more approachable, and has less obvious baggage.”