'We used to be a party of the South, we're now a party of the North' says Northern MP chair Jake Berry

When looking at those political figures across the north of England, Jake Berry would probably be regarded as a long-serving, veteran of the Conservative Party.

Despite serving alongside colleagues who have been in Parliament for twice or even three times as long as he has, the Rossendale and Darwen MP has seen the political landscape completely redrawn in the little over a decade he has spent in office so far.

Trained lawyer Mr Berry was one of the first bricks in the so-called Red Wall to turn blue.

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In 2010, he overturned a 3,600 majority in Rossendale and Darwen, Lancashire, putting an end to almost two decades of Labour holding the seat. Nine years later, he won his fourth election, now almost 10,000 votes ahead of the opposition.

Jake Berry pictured on Downing Street (PA)

“We’re now a transformed party,” he tells The Yorkshire Post.

“We used to be a party of the south that had some northern MPs.

“In truth, we are now a party of the North. We have our feet astride the entirety of the North from the border with Scotland all the way down to the Midlands, and that gives us a real opportunity to collectively work for communities across the North.”

The ‘collective’ he refers to are the increasingly influential Northern Research Group, which he has chaired since its inception last year.

The NRG, as it is known in Westminster circles, is made up of dozens of Conservative MPs, all of whom Mr Berry describes as having their “feet firmly planted in the communities that [they] represent”.

This cohort of blue colleagues have clubbed together to “fight” for the north’s interests on behalf of the electorate, in Parliament and hopefully behind the black door on Downing Street.

And it seems to be working. Days before last week’s Budget, former Northern Powerhouse Minister Mr Berry wrote to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak - a northern colleague on the other side of the Pennines in Richmond - asking for the Government to freeze fuel duty.

“We understand that for many people who live in the North, they rely more heavily on vehicular transport, whether that’s a van or a car or even getting the local bus, and that’s going to be hit by any fuel duty rise,” Mr Berry explained.

“Now is not the time with the wider cost of living crisis to start putting fuel prices for people in the North.

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“It’s that sort of understanding and collectivism that we bring to bear with the Government.”

Two days after Mr Berry spoke to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Sunak stood at the Dispatch Box and ditched plans for a 4.9 per cent increase in the tax, telling MPs he was “not prepared to add to the squeeze on families and small businesses.”

But why now?

The Tories have been growing their influence across the North for more than 10 years now, why are the regions’ representatives only now starting to look like a group that could put proper pressure on Number 10?

There were “several attempts” in the Parliaments since 2010 to pull something like this together, but quite simply, “there just wasn’t enough of us actually, being completely honest”.

The chairman is very complimentary of “brilliant” younger, newer MPs who have begun to make a name for themselves in recent years, who he describes as “slightly different to the very well meaning group”, including himself, who have been on the green benches a little longer.

Mr Berry explained: “There were plenty of attempts to get a northern group together to work together in this collective way, which sort of withered on the vine and failed.

“Why I think the Northern Research Group is different, is that we’re a membership organisation into which colleagues pay for a shared collective resource for parliamentary research and support in their role as an MP.

“That sort of day to day support that colleagues get binds us a bit closer together, and that’s why I believe that this group will succeed.”

Pointing to Don Valley’s Nick Fletcher, Dehenna Davison in Bishop Auckland, he adds: “They’re much more sort of rooted in and of their communities.

“I think that’s a brilliant thing for the Conservative Party. I just think it’s great for politics.

“But I also think it helps backbench colleagues.

“Don’t forget all of those colleagues who came in in 2019, none of them are ministers.

“So the Northern Research Group pulls them together in a coherent way to work for each other.”

The benefits of this large collective, rather than as a group of individual politicians protecting the interests of their 60 - 80,000 constituents, is where Mr Berry believes their strength lies.

“I’ve spent as much time supporting money going into Sheffield and the Don Valley and Penistone and Stocksbridge, as I have into my own constituency of Rossendale and Darwen, but we get more when we work together.

“And people shouldn’t be concerned or surprised that northern Conservative MPs really want to work hard to deliver for our communities.”

“We don’t work for Boris Johnson,” Mr Berry declared.

“We don’t even work for the Conservative Party.

“We work for the people who elect us.

“And what we’re doing is fighting for them.”