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Why Twitter Is Cursing A British Conservative Who’s Not Named May

Posted November 17, 2018 2:05 p.m. EST

FILE -- Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative MP once dubbed the “Honorable member for the 18th century” because of his perceived antediluvian ways, in Radstock, England, Sept. 15, 2017. Twitter users lampooned Rees-Mogg with torrent of baroque and distinctly British curses after the hard-line Brexiter called for a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Theresa May. (Andrew Testa/The New York Times)

LONDON — On the day that Prime Minister Theresa May presented her draft plan for Britain’s exit from the European Union, also known as Brexit, worries about the country’s future spiked across the land and a fellow Conservative politician stood up in Parliament and suggested it was time for a no-confidence vote against her.

The next day, a hashtag began trending on Twitter — #CurseReesMogg — as Britons took out their anger not on May, but on the politician, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hard-line Brexiter once called the “Honorable member for the 18th century” because of his perceived antediluvian ways.

The tweets were various shades of rude, crude and obscene (therefore unprintable here). They were often distinctly British, touching on Rees-Mogg’s posh accent, his upper-class background and his “nanny,” to name a few themes. Here’s why #CurseReesMogg has been trending since Friday.

An Orchestrator Lays His Claim

Will Black, a journalist and author, appears to be the first to tweet the hashtag #CurseReesMogg. He claims to have started the #CurseNigelFarage, #CurseBorisJohnson, #CurseDavidCameron and the #CurseDonaldTrump hashtags.

On Friday, he tweeted, “Now it’s Jacob Rees-Mogg’s time.”

The hashtag rose to the top of the charts and grew into a furor aimed at Rees-Mogg and his role in Brexit. Many referred to the wish for a People’s Vote, a new referendum on Brexit. But the tweets also went far afield, touching on the presumed fact that Rees-Mogg had a nanny who would do him harm:

“May nanny bath you in ice cold water and rub you down with a Brillo pad,” one Twitter user identified as Owen wrote. “May Nanny forever forget to check under your bed for monsters,” said another, Stuart.

In a class-conscious country, others wished for him to suddenly begin speaking with a decidedly different accent:

“May you bump your head hard on an unexpectedly low doorway and wake up with a thick regional accent.”

“May you wake up in the morning with an Essex accent and a Burberry baseball cap permanently fixed to your head ... and your family come from Salford.”

The opposition Labour party, and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, were frequent curses:

“May you wake up after an all night bender to find a tattoo of Jeremy Corbyn on your inner thigh.”

“May your children vote labour and marry members of the working class.”

But Why Jacob Rees-Mogg?

For many Britons, Rees-Mogg conjures the 18th century in the way he speaks, acts and lives. But he has managed a 21st-century feat by commanding attention on social media with a comic persona and unashamedly elitist views in recent years.

The former fund manager and father of six mixes a consciously traditional style and upper-class mannerisms, which have afforded him a measure of online fame.

The joke turned serious last fall, when he emerged as a possible contender to challenge May, who has been struggling to fend off criticism of the way she has led Brexit negotiations.

Since January, Rees-Mogg has also been the head of the European Research Group, a coalition of pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers.

On Thursday, he raised the question of writing a letter to the party leadership calling for a no-confidence vote against May. He also posted on Twitter a video of his speech. Later, he said in front of Parliament that he had, indeed, written the letter championing her removal.

May’s leadership has been imperiled at various stages of the Brexit negotiations, and the signatures of at least 48 Conservative party lawmakers can trigger a no-confidence vote.

Victorian Time Machine

Twitter users saw rich fodder for curses in Rees-Mogg’s social status: “May all his servants join a trade union.”

Another: “May you never manage to repair your Victorian time machine, leaving you stranded in the ungenteel 21st Century for the rest of your days.”

Beyond the Humor

Rees-Mogg does have his defenders, with supporters praising him as authentic. But, behind the persona, critics say, he is a populist who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and subscribes to a hard line on Brexit that seems blind to warnings of economic damage.

His backers were among those answering the #CurseReesMogg tweets, complaining that they unfairly targeted Rees-Mogg.

“Shame on those horrible left-wing trolls who have been out in force again saying #CurseReesMogg,” wrote a user under the name Joe Porter. I’ll never understand why they choose to target someone who is a true English gentleman, stands up for what he believes in & treats his opponents with nothing but courtesy & respect.”

Others called the tweets outright abuse, with one person writing: “The absolute vitriol being directed at Jacob Rees-Mogg under the #CurseReesMogg hashtag brings shame on the Labour Party and Pro-EU movement.”

But the tweets rolled on for a second day.

Very British Insults

Many displayed a typically British brand of humor, blending sarcasm, a touch of cruelty and self-derision. They played on well-known brands like Wetherspoons, a chain of pubs that has openly backed Brexit, and, of course, biscuits and tea.

People admitted spending too long reading through the curses, but they came as a welcome distraction after days of political crisis and ahead of a week that held many uncertainties about the country’s future.

“May you live to see the first female Pope,” offered one user.

And, reflecting the uncertainties of Brexit: “May you develop an addiction to Cup-a-Soup, only to find it is no longer available after we crash out of the EU with no deal.”