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'Toff' shrugs off class jibes in Somerset battle

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 20 April 2010

Labour have accused Tory candidate for Somerset North East, Jacob Rees-Mogg as being unrepresentative. Katie Razzall investigates whether being posh is an electoral liability?

Jacob Rees-Mogg sign (Getty)

He calls his election leaflet, his "calling card", but that's not the most posh thing about Jacob Rees-Mogg, the conservative candidate for North East Somerset.

The voice ("plums in his throat" he told me), the Etonian education, the descriptions of him sporting a three-piece suit and cravat at Oxford university, let's face it, they set him apart.

He was said to be in hiding from the national media, fighting a low profile campaign because his persona doesn't fit in with David Cameron's "changed" party.

Still, the jibes in the press have obviously hurt and the ineffably polite Mr Rees-Mogg agreed to meet me in a village in his constituency where he was campaigning - or rather, handing out "calling cards".

His first national TV interview of the campaign.

Remember, this is a man who's been quoted as referring to people who didn't go to Oxbridge as "potted plants"; who, it's reported, turned up in a working class district in Scotland in his Mercedes with his nanny in tow and said he'd decided not to bring the Bentley (he told me he's learnt now you can't tell jokes if you're a politician); and who was rejected by London's Kensington and Chelsea Tories for lacking "the common touch".

His first TV interview - and a first for me too.

I've never had a playground rhyme repeated to me by a parliamentary candidate before. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me," he told me.

"If you want to call me a Tory toff, call me a Tory toff." That's just what the Labour candidate and local MP Dan Norris is doing - milking Mr Rees-Mogg's background for all it's worth.

He says he "thought it was an April Fool" when his opponent was picked. He denies it's the posh voice that's a problem, "it's his attitudes, it's about having respect for others".

His campaign material is full of the Rees-Mogg gaffes. He believes they're "bound to" help him hold the seat.

Somerset North East Vote 2010 candidates
- Gail Coleshill, Liberal Democrat
- Michael Jay, Green
- Dan Norris, Labour
- Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative
- Peter Sandell, UK Independence Party

So it's class-war here, Somerset-style.

Gail Coleshill for the Liberal Democrats is rising above it. She says the recession means people are really concerned about issues this election and are thinking seriously about which party will sort out the economics mess.

Whether people in this former mining community care that the Rees-Mogg forebears owned the mines - "we haven't owned mines for 150 years" he told me - is anyone's guess.

As one local put it to me - "He sounds like a posh person from Somerset. Mind you, they're all posh round here these days!"

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