Introducing the NRG
The Conservative party has several associated organisations and interest groups within its ranks which exert political pressure from within. Groups such as the European Research Group, the Cornerstone Group, Blue Collar Conservatives, and the Tory Reform Group command cohorts of MPs, both in government and backbenchers, who share collective interests and unite around a certain issue. They research and brief on matters related to their subject and form a lobby group.
The ERG was, and remains to be, the Eurosceptic group of Conservative MPs and was formed almost 30 years ago following the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. It has since then campaigned relentlessly opposing the EU and, ultimately, has had noteworthy success. Other groups have had varying success and influence, but one that has been particularly vocal on recent matters is the newly formed Northern Research Group or NRG. Described as the “biggest threat to Boris Johnson’s authority since he came to power” by The Telegraph’s Gordon Rayner, the group is now seen as a party within the party, which one that has promised to vote as a bloc. Boasting 54 (or 55) backbenchers, they will prove to be a powerful voice, making Boris Johnson’s once seemingly impenetrable 80 seat majority look rather more unstable.
The NRG has, supposedly, taken inspiration for their name from the ERG and will be looking to have a similar impact on Conservative policy as its namesake.
The group is led by Jake Berry, the former Northern Powerhouse minister. The Independent reports that Berry was in fact encouraged by the Prime Minister to set up the group in the first place, to unite the new intake of Northern MPs that the Conservatives won in the 2019 General Election. “I think his exact words were, “I order you to go out and set this group up”,” Berry said. “So, I don’t know how he feels about it this week, but I think at the time he thought it was brilliant.”
Only today, the NRG sent a letter to the Prime Minister, calling on him to present a “clear roadmap out of lockdown”, and warning him to “reflect carefully” on his promise to “level up” the North. It follows the well-publicised battle between the government and the Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham over local lockdowns and financial support. Stopping not just at Covid restrictions, the NRG has also called for greater infrastructure spending in the North as well as calling for the government to “start working on a regional basis” to create more employment opportunities.”
41 of the members have been publicly signed today’s letter, many from the 2019 intake, two from North Wales and one from Scotland. Also on the letter were former cabinet ministers David Davis, David Mundell and Esther McVey.
Several former ERGrs have gone on to become current cabinet ministers including as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove and Priti Patel, partly as their views are now that of the government’s policy. Should the NRG be successful in its campaigns, it will be telling to see how many of the NRGs may also go on to become ministers. One thing is for certain, they, just like the Mayor (now informally dubbed “King of the North”) will not go away any time soon. Especially as all the areas under the strictest restrictions of the government’s tiered system are in the North or the Midlands. Warrington’s restrictions came into force overnight, two days earlier than originally planned.