The morning after being ‘caught up in a scuffle’ at the University of the West of England (a scene that BBC Somerset’s James Craig described as ‘very aggressive and unexpected’), found Jacob Rees-Mogg being interviewed on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.
The purpose of the interview was not, though, the previous night’s headline-making attack on him, which was sufficiently intimidating to draw condemnation from both Labour’s Shadow Education spokesman Angela Rayner and the Lib Dems’ Jo Swinson.
It was not this at the front of presenter Nick Robinson’s mind. He neither bothered to inquire what had happened (which would have given him an account from the horse’s mouth), nor asked after his interviewee’s wellbeing, or even what Mr Rees-Mogg made of this assault on free speech.
His intent was quite otherwise.
It was to force an apology from Mr Rees-Mogg – the politician who undoubtedly is the biggest threat to the BBC’s pro-EU ‘remainer’ stance.
Jacob Rees-Mogg had, Mr Robinson said in his introduction, ‘claimed in the House of Commons . . . that Treasury officials had fixed their economic forecasts in order to show that all options other than staying in the EU customs union were bad’.
What a terrible slander on the oh-so-neutral Treasury. It had to be rectified, to be sure. Enlisted in this project was the Head of the Centre for European Reform, Charles Grant, ‘the man who he claimed had said all this’.
The interview that followed was a BBC classic of its kind – based on a false premise, staggeringly imbalanced questioning and finally laying a flaky claim to the moral high ground.
The full transcript can be found here.
Suffice it to say the item was not premised on the possibility that Treasury officials were again flouting the nation’s will (true to their ‘Project Fear’ form) by fiddling the figures, this time to keep us in the customs union, aka the EU. No, it rested on the false premise that leaving the customs union, though implicit in the Referendum vote to leave and underlined by Mrs May’s decision to create a department to negotiate independent trade deals under Liam Fox, was newly up for discussion and the latest reason for reviewing the ‘leave’ decision.
As for the way the interview was conducted, it was what we have come to expect – interruptions and harassment of the few pro-Brexit interviewees that the BBC deigns to invite to undergo a predictable drubbing.
Indeed, it was a masterclass. Nick Robinson’s non-stop interrupting and talking over Jacob Rees-Mogg was possibly a record – by my count 18 times to just once for his other interviewee, Mr Grant.
Robinson not only gave JRM the much tougher time but allowed Charles Grant to get away with outrageous claims about the impact of a changed tariff regime.
On one level, you could say, it was par for the course, just more evidence that Brexit is challenged massively on the BBC; that no stone is to be left unturned when it comes to demolishing the case for Brexit, whereas Remain perspectives will always be projected as much more attractive and credible.
So it is absolutely to Mr Rees-Mogg’s credit that he gave an admirably clear account of his own position and stood his ground even in face of Robinson’s final (in full stern-headmaster moral-high-ground mode) questioning of his character:
‘A last word to you, Jacob Rees-Mogg, let me ask you this if I may, because this is why, in a sense, this row matters. There are some people who’ve presented you in the past as a sort of amusing backbench eccentric. You’re now, you’re a leading figure in terms of backbench Brexiteers, and many ministers say you are a likely candidate to be our next Prime Minister. Do you not accept that to accuse civil servants of rigging official forecasts is not the behaviour of a man who wishes to lead this country?’
Despite the insulting nature of the question, reprobate Rees-Mogg floored him with his reply. Following the Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro school of thought, he walked towards the fire and repeated, yes sir, the Treasury had fiddled the figures. He refused to be bullied.
Which is why this interview will not be the end of it. Jacob Rees-Mogg must know he can expect little sympathy from the BBC on any count – whether he be beaten up or prevented from speaking – and that they will trash his character if they can. It will be personal now.
For it is deep in the BBC’s DNA to ridicule or smear any advocate of conservatism or politician really prepared to challenge the Left, which is what JRM does. It has proved an effective way of demoralising the Tory Right. If the BBC’s previous form is anything to go by they will be out for his blood.
And the BBC has the resources. Look at what they were able to throw at the Cliff Richard story, discarding any decent journalistic principle in the process.
Clever, clear-thinking and calm, the hated by the Left Jacob Rees-Mogg poses the most significant political challenge to the BBC’s Leftist pro-EU orthodoxies in years. So will he be the subject of BBC special investigations? Will BBC favourite Anna Soubry, featured again this morning trashing the Brexiteers, be enlisted to help? Will we see his country house from BBC helicopters circling above, or BBC journalists set to the task (metaphorically speaking) of investigating his dustbins? It is not beyond the realms of imagination.