The Sunday Times Magazine - UK (2022-05-01)

(EriveltonMoraes) #1
The Sunday Times Magazine • 17

homemade lemon biscuits and a Victoria
sponge. Mealtime chitchat revolves around
schoolwork, history and classics. I’m saved
from an awkward question about
Demosthenes when Sixtus is gently
admonished for crawling under the table.
“Well, Daisy’s under here,” Sixtus retorts.
“Yes, but Daisy’s a dog,” Rees-Mogg says,
before adding: “What would Nanny say?”
After dessert — apple crumble and
custard — the youngsters leave the table
and pester him for his tablet so they can
play computer games. “The elder four have
iPads or iPhones,” he reveals. “The younger
two borrow mine.”
He has advocated tougher controls on
internet content and even backed a private
member’s bill on the issue, brought by an
opposition MP. Does he know what his
children are watching? “They can only see
things already on my iPad,” he says. “They’re
probably not looking at Hansard but they
can’t add new apps without my fingerprint.”
Does he allow his older children to join
WhatsApp groups — frequently blamed
for cyberbullying? “There was bullying
when I was at school and I think sometimes
the medium gets blamed for something
that needs to be stopped in other ways.
But there are issues with the information
people can get through the internet,
especially on self-harming and the terrible
damage that can do.” He wants social media
companies such as Twitter and Facebook to
be more accountable for their content but
he doesn’t like censorship. When Russia
Today was recently taken off air by Ofcom
he was disappointed.
“I’m very reluctant to ban things.” It’s
better to let people judge for themselves, he
says. “Lord Haw-Haw led to Germany being
ridiculed and Comical Ali made a fool of
Saddam Hussein.” Was it right for Twitter to
ban Donald Trump, who he once said would
be Britain’s “greatest ally after Brexit” in
freeing up international trade? “No, of course
not. I mean it seems extraordinary because
the president of Iran is still on Twitter.”
He believes free speech is in danger of
being curtailed — and that the wealthy are

already too protected from criticism. “The
rise in privacy cases to hamper the free
press has led to them becoming a tool of
the rich and famous. Joe Bloggs can’t go
to the High Court to complain. I’m not
convinced we have got the balance right.
I worry about the evolution of [privacy] law
that is not made by parliament but by
judges. If it were entirely up to me — and
this is not government policy — public
figures should have to prove that an article
was malicious.”
He’s a huge fan of America’s First
Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of
speech, which he sees as a counterweight
to cancel culture. “I like the fact that [in
America] you basically give up your rights if
you’re a public figure.” He’d also like to see
Britain introduce the American convention
on pricing where sales tax is quoted
separately so customers can see how much
the government is taking from them.
Closer to home, one issue that has
aroused strong feeling is a plan for 20mph
speed limits through the local villages,
including West Harptree, right outside
Rees-Mogg’s front door, from which he
might benefit.
“Twenty-mile-an-hour limits are
ridiculous,” he says. “They simply obstruct
the flow of traffic. People are in favour of
them when they are proposed, and later
realise how annoying they are. It’s a
microcosm of politics generally: opinion
polls suggest something would be popular
and once you put it into practice it isn’t.”
He’s concerned that people can get swept
along on tides of indignation, magnified by

social media, towards ever tighter
regulation. He sees no reason to meddle
with rules for the sake of it.
At the root of his belief about smaller
government, he says, is the philosophy of
John Stuart Mill, who reasoned that the
only purpose for which power can be
rightfully exercised over any member of
a civilised community, against his or her
will, is to prevent harm to others. “That
applies both to their money and to their
daily life. What is convenient to the
government is not necessarily something
that is right for the government to do,”
he intones.
He has tried to block the creeping
influence of local authorities, arguing that
council officials with the power to issue
on-the-spot fines should be made to
wear bowler hats, and now has his sights
on Whitehall staffing.
Past attempts by governments to rein in
quangos and the civil service have usually
failed. “When Francis Maude left the job
that I have [in 2016], the civil service was
91,000 smaller. It’s too early for me to be
setting a new target but you’ve got to get
it under control,” he says. “Leaving the
European Union is relevant because before
Brexit you had public bodies that were
essentially reporting to Brussels. Now they
are reporting to London, you can go back to
much better democratic accountability.”
While he’s keen to see Britain and its
mandarins back at their desks — reportedly
conducting “spot checks” at government
departments — he admits lockdown at
home had its attractions. “One of the
oddities of lockdown, which was something
that one would never wish to have, was
I saw a great deal more of my six lovely
children, so it had its compensations.”
Might he have more? As well as his
position on same-sex marriage and
abortion, he is strict on Catholic teachings
on contraception. “Humanae Vitae is the
teaching of the church on contraception,”
he says firmly, with a glance towards the
neighbouring room, where Father Dom is
enjoying a post-lunch beverage. “I accept
the teaching of the church, the 1968 papal
encyclical as I’m sure you know? ”
Er, of course. Does that mean there could
be a Septimus? The PM has seven, after all.
He considers carefully. “Who knows? It’s
a gift from God. I’d love to have more but
I think my wife feels that six is enough.” n

“The elder four children

have iPads or iPhones.

The younger two borrow

mine. They’re probably

not looking at Hansard”

Back: Jacob.
Middle row, from
left: Veronica Crook,
Helena, Mary, Peter.
Front row, from left:
Anselm, Alfred,

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