William Rees-Mogg: a hero of intellectual conservatism
Lord Rees-Mogg was one of the most influential figures in the great history of the Conservative Party, shaping the party and the nation with his radical, free-market brand of conservatism
Like many, I was saddened to learn of the death of William Rees-Mogg on Saturday morning. Throughout his life, he was a man of great principle and intellect.
He was a life-long conservative and always held true to the principles of British conservatism, even during times when The Conservative Party itself moved away from them.
He was innovative in the way he presented his ideas and how he went about promoting the ideas of others. In 1951, age 23, he, along with Geoffrey Howe, invented the first right-wing think tank, The Bow Group.
He created the group to have free and open debate on policy, and to influence the manifesto of The Conservative Party whilst remaining independent of the party itself.
This independent outsider, representing the pure Tory, is the model Lord Rees-Mogg would follow throughout his life. He sat in the Lords as a Cross-Bencher; free from a party whip he was able to debate and vote according to his conservative principles rather than be a slave to a party message. He wielded as much influence over his party as any man could while never actually being on the inside of it.
With his ruthless intellect, he would hold the Conservative Party to account if it did not adhere to conservative ideology. He could bring down a Tory leader with the power of his pen.
He did exactly that to Alec Douglas-Home as deputy editor of the Sunday Times, with his famous article "A Captain's Innings", in which he exposed his failings as party leader.
With Douglas-Home gone and subsequently replaced by Edward Heath, Rees-Mogg was promoted to editor of The Times. At the helm of The Times he would shape the debate against Heath’s vision of conservatism and in favour of a more radical, modern conservatism.
This debate was eventually lost by Heath and a lady from Grantham would become leader of the Conservative Party and later Prime Minister to champion the Rees-Mogg version of radical, modern, conservative ideology.
Again in the 90s he would lead the charge in the battle of ideas. He understood that the signing of the Maastricht Treaty would see sovereign powers leave Westminster and go to a growing, federal Europe. He first fought this battle in his column in The Times by leading the Maastricht rebels from outside of the Party.
He then moved the battle to the courts in a landmark case in British history where he forced a judicial review of the Foreign Secretary's decision to ratify the Maastricht Treaty. His argument was that the treaty would see a transfer of Royal Prerogatives to the EU. The application was rejected but history is showing that Rees-Mogg was right.
Lord Rees-Mogg was one of the most influential figures in the great history of the Conservative Party, shaping the party and the nation with his radical, free-market brand of conservatism. British conservatives have, sadly, lost one of their greatest heroes.
Nic Conner is on the council of The Bow Group but writes independently. You can follow him on twitter @niconner
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