Jacob Rees-Mogg: 'From a constitutional podcasting point of view, you would have to start with Cicero'
He once said that all sensible people have the British constitution as one of their hobbies – now the leader of the Commons has launched a new podcast series on exactly that. Jacob Rees-Mogg talks to Georgina Bailey about ‘Why Parliament Works’
Firstly, where did the idea come from to start the podcast?
Well I’ve been doing the Moggcast with ConservativeHome so I’ve been into podcasts. And there was discussion in the office as to how we could explain the work of Parliament more clearly [to the public]… I’m under strict orders not to tell you this but it actually was Alex in my office who came up with the idea and said, ‘Why didn’t you take the Moggcast example, and use it for Parliament?’.
I thought that was an absolutely excellent idea. It also allows me to interview some of my favourite people and have discussions about the subject I’m enormously interested in. So, it was a really good idea from my point of view, not only in explaining how Parliament works more broadly, but also getting to understand it better myself.
Is there anything you learnt about the constitution from doing these podcasts that you didn’t already know?
Oh, lots! Because our constitution isn’t codified, people who set themselves up as constitutional experts are always theorising about the constitution, rather than being able to refer to an authoritative text. And so when somebody like me who is interested, a student of the constitution and of Parliament, speaks to the people who really know about it, you always find out so many things you didn’t know about the inner workings of it… and I’m looking forward to learning more actually.
Let’s play Desert Island Podcasts: dead or alive who would be your dream podcast guest?
Oh, that’s the hardest question… I think from a constitutional podcasting point of view, you would have to start with Cicero, because I think hearing his understanding of how the Roman Republic was meant to work would be amazing. I heard somebody say it was ridiculous we admire Cicero so much when he was a failed politician, which I think is so desperately unfair because he was the only politician of his time who didn’t have an army behind him and yet he managed to be stunningly influential and his influence resonates down the centuries.
Then we’re going to remain constitutional, and somebody I would never otherwise have, but let’s go for King John and ask him what he was thinking about when he agreed to Magna Carta. What was the point of that, why did he get bullied into that, what did he think it would do?
Continuing the theme, I’m then going to go to Simon de Montfort, and the bringing in of the burgesses. Because we all think that was done as a natural evolution of Parliament and it wasn’t. Like so much of our constitutional change it was done in response to a political emergency and de Montfort wanted to get supporters into the House to counteract the county influence.
And then I think you’ve got to jump a long way forward with one of the great parliamentary reformers who is probably Lord Grey and the 1832 Reform Bill. And then I think you would finish with Lord Irvine of Lairg who was so important in the Blairite constitutional reforms, which I can’t say I like, but which have been tremendously influential… I thought I’d better come up to date, with somebody who is still alive.
Let’s say that you lose your voice on the day of a recording – are there any of your cabinet colleagues who you think you could ask to step in and host a podcast on the constitution?
Oh easily! Almost all of them, but I think I’d turn first of all to the Lord Chancellor, who I think probably shares my obsession most greatly of the current members of the Cabinet.
And, finally, do you have any favourite podcasts yourself that you listen to?
The great thing about doing this is that it has expanded my own podcast listening. And I’ve come across one that is fantastically brilliant, and much better than anything I could possibly do, because it’s a podcast on Somerset County Cricket done by BBC Somerset, and it is just heaven. One couldn’t ask for anything more.
The first four episodes of Why Parliament Works with Jacob Rees-Mogg are available on your preferred podcast platform, with guests Vernon Bogdanor, Lord Norton of Louth, Natascha Engel and Chloe Smith.