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Daily Telegraph
3 October 2017

There's an art to exposing your opponents as hate-filled ideologues, and Jacob Rees-Mogg has mastered it

I’m not surprised that Jacob Rees-Mogg was courteous to an aggressive young man accusing him of being “a despicable person” bent on destroying people.

We should, of course, never confuse good manners with sincerity He went to Eton, after all, where they’re taught that politeness is a powerful weapon. If combined with brains and knowledge – both of which The Mogg has in abundance – furious opponents making wild assertions without any facts to back them up look uncouth and silly.

You don't need to have gone to Eton to know that courtesy can be used to your advantage CREDIT: LUIS DAVILLA/MOMENT MOBILE

Particularly in such abrasive, tribal times, most of us would cheer his patient explanation to the apoplectic young zealot that “just because you disagree with somebody that doesn’t make them a bad person”.

I didn’t go to Eton, but I’ve learned over years of debate in real life, on air and on social media, that opponents who lose their cool usually also lose the argument.

Coming from Ireland, where violent political disagreement is nothing new, one of my minor pleasures is when an onslaught of abusive messages from Irish republican supporters, upset at a critical article I’ve written, causes Sinn Fein enforcers to try to shut them up. Their party leaders didn’t go to Eton but did learn from media trainers years ago to try at least to give the appearance of being polite.

They are True Believers who find it very difficult to conceal their loathing and contempt for their political opponents

Their staunch supporter, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, emulates them when he adopts a soft voice and an air of sweet reason to answer tough questions from interviewers asking difficult questions.

We should, of course, never confuse good manners with sincerity. Sinn Fein are adept at complaining of the rudeness of Ulster Unionists – who go in for plain-speaking – and denounce them piously for offences against political correctness which republicans have adhered to since the IRA stopped murdering people.

But like the hard-line Corbynistas, they are True Believers who find it very difficult to conceal their loathing and contempt for their political opponents. They say please and thank you, but – as the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, pointed out last week – the party’s approach is one of “constantly hectoring … lack of respect for other people, inability to listen to them, and inability to listen or to compromise”.

It is that fundamental lack of respect that causes True Believers to let the mask slip, as when Mr McDonnell confided to the faithful in commending undemocratic means of bringing down the government: “Now we’re polite and say it’s direct action. Let’s get back to calling it what it is. It’s insurrection.” Similarly, his chum Gerry Adams told a private meeting that the republican strategy vis-à-vis the Democratic Unionist Party was to use the issue of equality as a Trojan horse to “break these bastards”.

What makes Rees-Mogg and genuinely courteous people truly effective is that they show others respect and listen to them. For if they aren’t rendered inarticulate with hatred, any opponent may conceivably have something to say that’s worth hearing. When “Tory scum” are civil in the face of abuse, they can disarm those whose minds are not completely closed.

I don’t want sanitised politics. Apposite and witty insults have their place, especially from those who can laugh at themselves. I cherish Boris Johnson’s reference to Jeremy Corbyn as “a mutton-headed old mugwump”. Civility and humour are very British virtues and, though they may not have been decisive in defeating Napoleon, they can help win elections.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


© Ruth Dudley Edwards