Tag Archives: tories

The Picture of Jacob Rees-Mogg

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JRM

In Wilde’s Dorian Gray, the protagonist sells his soul for the promise of eternal beauty. His outward looks are preserved, through a life of selfishness and egotism, only the painting of the protagonist as a youth reveals his true nature. The painting “held the secret of his life, and told his story”. Gray hides it behind a large screen; only to view and review it repeatedly in secret afterwards. “The most magical of mirrors”. It is placed in a locked-up schoolroom, hidden beneath a purple satin coverlet, behind a locked door to which Gray keeps the only key.

One modern equivalent of the purple coverlet is a withdrawal of permission and insistence on copyright. This was the fate of the photograph of David Cameron among his Bullingdon Club friends which was once a staple of the Mirror and the Guardian. In 2007, the photographers Gillman and Soame, who make a living from selling to middle-class parents the images of their Oxford-educated progeny, announced that they would no longer authorise the reproduction of the image, and since then (outside some dark corners of the internet), the image has hardly been seen.

The painting of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset, is almost as hard to track down. Previously on display at the National Portrait Gallery, there is no longer any record of it on the Gallery’s website (although the Gallery retains four images of his Times-editing father); even the artist Paul Brason has taken down its original page on his website.

Few 18 year olds have the money or the fortune to be painted by an artist. Nor was this the evening or weekend commission of a struggling painter earning a few pounds on the side. When he painted Rees-Mogg, Brason himself was fast approaching middle age and others of his pictures had already been displayed in the National Portrait Gallery. Ten years later, he was elected President of the Society of Portrait Painters, a position he still holds. Brason has painted business leaders, intellectuals, and even Prince Philip. Why should anyone have found a need to waste an artist of this quality on the painting of a schoolboy?

In his 40s, Rees-Mogg is seen as a curiosity: the man who once canvassed for the Tories in Fife with his nanny. He is a Euro-scpetic, an admirer of Farage, and recently a speaker at the AGM of the Traditional Britain Group, a meeting place of former and not-so-former fascists with Tories nostalgic for a landed, rural capitalism. He takes so seriously the Conservative vision that Thatcherism still speaks for the people, that he has exiled himself far from urban life to Gournay Court, a red sandstone 57-bed stately home in Somerset, large enough to have once been a hospital, into which no members of the Great British public could ever enter save as servants or tradespeople, and for which he and his wife paid the bargain price of just £2.9 million four years ago.

To hear Rees-Mogg speak is to be reminded of a world prior to the emergence of the working class a political actor, where (as in 1901, for example) there were 1.5 million domestic servants: three times more than the number of miners, five times more than the number of rail workers, and fifteen times more than worked on the docks. In much of that world, deference to the rich was a mere matter of survival, and the Rees-Mogg ancestors and their class could happily believe the myths they told one another about their own moral and genetic superiority – there being few enough people in any sort of position to point out their absurdity.

Rees-Mogg is often interviewed about the painting, and he always speaks of it as if – like Dorian Gray’s – it contains some permanent essence of his true personality. But it is not a flattering image. The most basic convention of private portraiture is that the sitter is allowed to bring to the image possessions which manifest their status in the world. To take an elevated example, when Sir Thomas More was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, he was painted in a livery collar showing the Tudor rose of the King; the point being that More was Henry VII’s Chancellor, in the whole of England only the King was more important than him. In general, Brason has followed the convention, painting military figures in their uniforms, Thatcher with her ministers, university administrators within the colleges where they taught, etc.

Eton is like the army; it dishes out countless visual awards (coloured waistcoats, raised collars, bow ties…) to pupils who can establish anything more than mediocrity, Rees-Mogg is painted without any of these accomplishments. Either he never earned any of them, or the artist has chosen to paint him in the dress of the most junior boy.

More importantly, Rees-Mogg is painted without any visual prop at all (a musical instrument, a football, a pen…), nothing to suggest that in five years of the school he had acquired any personality at all. There is no sign of his father’s position (a Tory journalist who had had visions of becoming an MP), nor even of the props the child Rees-Mogg had already acquired as a reactionary in waiting (a suitcase, the FT). He is painted alone, without friends or any context at all – save for a dark and empty background and a closed window through which he does not look.

Without anything other than a school uniform (and this is a leaving photo: the uniform is one he was about to give up), Rees-Mogg looks insecure and unhappy. He has, or will have nothing – no possessions, no friends, nothing – to take into the world.

If this is his essence captured, then it is in fact a lonely and a rather depressing one: an image of dependence without reward.

At the start of this year, a scandal temporarily filled the papers: it transpired that our MPs, the people who had so shamed themselves with the expenses scandal, had spent a further £250,000 of public money on portraits of several of their number. Rees-Mogg (although he had not been painted on that particular occasion, he is notorious for this painting from his youth) was the only politician who would be quoted on the affair. In passing, he revealed the fate of his old picture:  which had been housed in the school’s art collection. His answer depicts the same awkwardness, isolation and abasement with which his 18 year old sense once viewed the world: “It is flattering to know that I shall be in the Eton collection for as long as the school survives.”

Reasons to demonstrate on July 28; number 3: the Tories

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My view of politics owes more than I care to admit to that of the Norwegian commentator who ended his account of that game in 1981 “Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden … Lady Diana … Maggie Thatcher, can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher … your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating”

But when I think about the Olympics, and who is celebrating, all I see are the bankers and the politicians, the pims crowd, the organisers of corporate hospitality and the Union Jack wavers, the people whose chests thrill with joy at the sound of Boris Johnson’s voice being broadcast to a hundred London underground stations.

Through the build up to London 2012, it has been our side – the people who love in social housing, the advocates of consensual policing, the London poor, the young, the users of green spaces, pacifists, those whose idea of a happy meal extends beyond the corporate sponsors of Macdonalds, Coke and Cadburys  – that has been taking the beating.

Imagine how much worse even than they are now the Olympics would be like if the Tories and the police were able to maintain their original lie that no-one in London would protest against the Games.

But we will be, of course:

The Austerity Games

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When Seb Coe invited the International Olympic Committee to select London as hosts of the 2012 Games he justified the bid in simple terms. If London won, he promised, more people would take part in sport than could be achieved by any of London’s rivals: “Choose London today and you send a clear message to the youth of the world: the Olympic Games are for you”. If London won more would be done for less money than could be achieved anywhere else.

Since London’s victory there have been some attempts to keep an eye on whether these two promises have been met. The London Organising Committee (LOCOG) publishes annual accounts, and there has been some scrutiny through the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

It now seems clear that there will be no increase in sporting participation as a result of the Games. In 2008 the last government set Sport England a target to increase adult participation in sport by a million by March 2013.

Civil servants from the Department for Media, Culture and Sport told the PAC in March that they believe sporting rates have increased by around 100,000 over the last four years (the number of adults taking part in sport has increased by around 1 percent).

LOCOG’s publicity says as little as possible about adult involvement in sport, although there are frequent references to the number of schools which have been sent Olympics merchandise (a cynic would suggest that this has also been a cheap way of disposing of tens of thousands of items marketing the main Olympic sponsors).

As for cost, the London Olympic bid was for £2 billion, of which, it was said, the majority would be raised from the private sector. In fact only some £700 million or so has been raised from the private sector.

The total cost to the public, has risen from £1 billion (in the original bid) to £11 billion according to latest reports.

The PAC is critical of a number of decisions LOCOG has taken, including decisions about security. The Olympics organisers’ security forces will include Typhoon jets and two amphibious assault warships, one of which (HM Ocean, which houses 800 marines) is to be stationed on the Thames for the duration of the Games. These are the most grandiose of “conventional” weapons. What are they intended to protect us against – a surprise attack by Argentinean hockey players?

Between 2005 and 2011, the organisers budgeted for 10,000 security guards costing £282 million. In late 2011 a decision was taken to increase the total number of security personnel (including soldiers) to 23,500 costing £553 million. LOCOG chose to give the contract for 6,000 additional security guards to G4S, a business which has a track record of granting well-remunerated non-executive directorships to former members of both Tory and New Labour cabinets.

“There is no evidence”, the PAC writes, that “the government has secured any price advantage” from renegotiating this contract.

In other words, although you might have thought that buying services on this massive scale would lead to a price reduction, the government and LOCOG appear to have accepted the first offer that G4S put to them. Don’t assume that the workers will benefit from LOCOG’s largesse. In a letter sent by Seb Coe to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee in January 2012, LOCOG spelled out how G4S’s contract will work.

Big salaries for some

Nine hundred and four managers are going to be employed at G4S’s Olympic Project Management Office on generous salaries. As for the 16,000 or so security guards to be provided by G4S, they will be paid just £10 per hour. And G4S are “incentivised” (in their contract with LOCOG) to “identify saving opportunities in labour costs”. So if agencies can be found who will pay their workers less than £10 per hour, G4S will keep the difference.

Seb Coe is being paid £350,000 per year of public money for the Games. Meanwhile LOCOG chief executive Paul Deighton is being paid £800,000 per year, and altogether 16 executive directors of LOCOG are being paid in excess of £150,000 per year.

Just as there are two British economies, so it is at the Olympics: the rich are in permanent boom while the majority of workers find themselves in deep recession.

[from Socialist Review, May 2012]