On protesting “nuns”, a Labour “defection” and a story about “Andre Previn”


THE FIRST time I encountered protesters dressed as nuns was when I lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco in 1984-5. Sister Mary Boom Boom and her fellow Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were fixtures on the flourishing protest scene. This week I encountered another one protesting against Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appearance before a sell-out crowd of 2,300 at the London Palladium. This particular “nun” was a woman, rather than a man like the American sisters. But her worries were the same—that the right-wing was bent on depriving gays and women of their civil rights and restoring an oppressive patriarchal society. I know that because she told me in no uncertain terms.

The nun-protesters’ diatribe set off two (contradictory) lines of thought in my mind. The first was that, despite his love of all things English, including double-breasted Saville Row suits, Mr Rees-Mogg is a rather American figure. He combines an unapologetic belief in free-market capitalism with an equally unapologetic belief in traditional morals. While most British Thatcherites such as Liz Truss, the chief secretary of the treasury, emphasise that they are both economic and social liberals, Mr Rees-Mogg sounds like a member of the American moral majority when he talks about marriage and abortion. He is also importing into British politics the very techniques that made Newt Gingrich such a disastrous success in the United States in the 1990s: willingness to lead a party-within-party; a knowledge of what excites the media (turning yourself into a “character” is now, alas, part of the political game); and, above all, a talent for trashing the informal rules of the game in pursuit of your ideological vision. The two men even share a taste for eccentric versions of history.

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