SUDDENLY, the cartoonish Jacob Rees-Mogg – a man who was known to canvass with his nanny in tow, who once attempted to amend the Daylight Saving Bill to give Somerset its own time zone, 15 minutes behind London – is a realistic prospect for the future leader of the Conservative party.

This undoubtedly popular backbencher, a character Hugh Laurie could play with gentle mocking in the style of Blackadder’s Prince George, has for years been one of the country’s better-known politicians, largely due to repeat appearances on television series Have I Got News For You.

As such, it was no surprise to see him perched like a foppish daddy long legs beside Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid as ITV’s Good Morning Britain aired last week.

The presenters’ questions quickly alighted on women’s reproductive rights, whereupon Rees-Mogg, a practising Catholic, said he morally opposed abortion in all circumstances – including rape.

The reaction, of course, was both furious and immediate.

It was, said one Guardian journalist, “appalling bigotry” which should have “no place in public life”. Another commentator argued the pope should, if he became aware of Rees-Mogg, tell the MP: “You ain’t no Catholic, bruv.”

Twitter was also rife with condemnation. One post read: “Jacob Rees-Mogg is a vile human who shouldn’t be allowed to run an ice-cream van, let alone a government.”

A second tweeter opined: “Men likes Rees-Mogg who want to force raped women to have the child of the rapist are as bad as the rapist. Utterly cruel. Utterly evil.”

Another, apparently labouring under the prior impression that Rees-Mogg had donned a pink ‘pussy hat’ and joined the Women’s March in January, said the MP had "shown his hand at last".

Clearly, for many British voters - including this one - it was galling and disquieting to see this father of a six, an Old Etonian who cheerfully admitted earlier this year that he has never changed a nappy, telling the nation he believes in the restriction of women’s autonomy.

Watching him abdicate responsibility for his views on the grounds of religion, too, is hard to stomach. As reported in the Catholic Herald, 61 per cent of British Catholics polled now believe abortions should be legal on the simple grounds that ‘the woman does not wish to have a child’. (Overall, it should be noted, 30 per cent of those polled – religious and non-religious - aren’t comfortable with that as a reason for abortion.)

But we can’t be in any way shocked or surprised by Rees-Mogg's views. For better or worse, he has never sought to hide his opinions away or pretend to be something he isn’t.

His candour, if nothing else, is worthy of note – it’s a quality arguably unusual in a modern politician. It's also important to be respectful of his opinions, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. But we should also start taking him very seriously indeed.

For the people who haven’t been watching carefully enough – people like me – it’s been easy to write him off as a caricature of an eccentric English gentleman and little more.

However, over the years, he’s become a formidable force in the Tory party, perhaps as well-recognised as Boris, his equal in first-glance affability and harder-stare retrogression.

He doesn’t believe in gay marriage. He is an advocate of zero-hours contracts. He believes people who went to state-run schools are “potted plants”. He doesn’t believe in climate change legislation. Again, none of this is news. He has always been open about his opinions and aired them publicly when asked.

One of the best responses to the Good Morning Britain interview came from Ann Furedi, chief executive officer of abortion service Bpas.

She tweeted: “I wish all politicians were this honest.”

She then acknowledged Rees-Mogg was “way out of line with public opinion” but added: “Let’s debate [him], not silence him.”

Furedi is right. Let’s hear him. And then let’s decide what we want out of our elected representatives.