Barely three weeks into his government career, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has showered his new Whitehall team with praise – in stark contrast to his claims last year that Treasury staff routinely “fiddled figures”.
In a magazine diary column describing the hours immediately after he became Commons Leader and Lord President of the Council, the MP said he had been “deeply impressed” with the civil service and had “immediately gone native” in the Cabinet Office following his July 24 appointment by new PM Boris Johnson.
“My new private secretary had a full briefing ready for me at 11.30 at night and was on parade at seven the next morning with a full team to continue the preparations for my first appearance as Leader of the House,” Rees-Mogg said.
Rees-Mogg added: “ I had previously thought only corporate bankers worked such hours.”
The MP’s comments in The Spectator stand in stark contrast to a furore last year which saw him pilloried by civil service union leaders and former perm secs for failing to retract comments accusing Treasury officials of “fiddling the figures” in a BBC radio interview.
Former Home Office and Department for Work and Pensions perm sec Sir Leigh Lewis used his CSW column to dub the comments “contemptible” and evidence that Rees-Mogg was “utterly unsuited to high office”.
Former cabinet secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell addressed the comments in the House of Lords, suggesting they amounted to a “form of bullying” directed towards civil servants who could not defend themselves.
Elsewhere in his diary column, Rees-Mogg noted that the “style guide” he issued to his new staff in the hours after his appointment had dominated reports of his ascension to government.
As CSW reported at the time, the guide addressed a mix of linguistic pet hates of the Old Etonian including metric measures, use of the word “hopefully” and the Oxford comma – a comma which comes before the word “and” in a list of three or more items.
Rees-Mogg insisted that the guide was merely “a few specimens of bureaucratese that I particularly dislike” before going on to apologise for the exclusion of the New Labour mainstay of “going forward”, which he claimed had surprised some.
“It is an otiose phrase that will be included in any future editions,” he said.