From Frederick Shepherd, a new addition to our line up:
Headed by former Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, and comprised of fifty-four Tory backbenchers from the “blue wall” seats, The Northern Research Group (NRG) launched this week. Having seen Manchester, Merseyside, Yorkshire, and the northeast go up in Tiers but down in productivity, the NRG are here to ensure the Government keep up with “levelling up”. In their letter to the Prime Minister, the Group set out their priorities for the North, namely to ensure the Government sets “a clear roadmap” out of lockdown before looking for an “acceleration of infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail and ultrafast broadband”.
Seemingly innocuous at face value the NRG has ruffled some feathers, with the Guardian reporting them as the “biggest threat to Boris Johnson’s authority since he came to power” on the basis they could vote as a block and wipe out his majority. Still whilst this is true it’s also unlikely. Mr Berry has said that the NRG are not “out to give the Government a hard time” and there is little reason to suggest otherwise.
Whilst the Group contains some “big hitters” in their ranks – David Davis, Ester McVey, David Jones and David Mundell are all on board – their overall makeup is decidedly junior, and it is perhaps more this combination of inexperience and confidence that some find unnerving. Setting up during the middle of the pandemic and EU trade negotiations as a bunch of “Johnny Come Lately’s” will arouse suspicion and yet there’s been no indication they’d vote down any legislation.
Indeed, it would be a mistake to characterise the NRG’s political swagger for aggression. To be characterised as a “threat” the NRG would be seeking to subvert the aims of the Government but in pushing to deliver the Government’s manifesto pledges the diametric opposite is true. Indeed, rather than a group of rebels to keep an eye on, the NRG might be understood as a group of loyalist allies the Prime Minister can rely on. Fifty-four MPs who will fight tooth and nail to deliver his manifesto, and a welcome assurance during a difficult time.
As Mr Cummings will attest and as the party’s opponents encourage, Tories often view innovators and disruptors as cavalier, and this should change. The colour blue has many shades, the Conservative Party is a broad church, and the Parliamentary Party has had ideological groupings for centuries, and still does. Today there are 110 MPs in the ‘One Nation Caucus’; 160 in the ‘Blue Collar Conservatives Group’ and 90 in the ‘Cornerstone Group’ but there are also sizeable numbers in single-issue groups such as the ERG and the NRG is just another one of those.
Importantly, and as Professor Tim Bale put it, “…while Labour is a party of factions, the Conservative Party is a party of tendencies.” The NRG add another shade to the myriad in Parliament and that is no bad thing: diversifying makes the party less – not more – risky. Only external influences hoping to sow division or feeling themselves under threat would want to suggest otherwise.