The Rundown Podcast: Tory MP Warns "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" On Cost Of Living Crisis
Chair of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs Jake Berry critiques Rishi Sunak's plan to tackle the cost of living crisis and challenges Boris Johnson to "rip up the civil service rule book" and save the “Levelling Up” agenda.
As energy bills skyrocket, the price at petrol pumps reaches new records, and the cost of groceries continues to rise, households are facing the tightest squeeze on their finances for a generation.
But Berry, a former Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, and chair of the influential Northern Research Group of Conservatives, worried that things will only get worse.
“I'm sorry to say to your listeners that you ain't seen nothing yet," he told the podcast.
“Because actually at the moment we're in the fear of a cost of living crisis. Frankly, it's only just started.”
The MP for Rossendale and Darwen in Lancashire said he wanted to congratulate Rishi Sunak for the financial package announced last week, saying for some of those on the lowest wages they will receive £1,000.
“I think that is the right thing to do,” he said. “But query, should it go further? Well, the truth is, none of us actually know do we?
“Week by week, this changes. I wonder whether a bit later in the year, the government should have another look at VAT.
"It's absolutely clear that people in the poorest households pay the biggest proportion of their income in VAT compared with the people who are relatively well off. So to me, that will be the next natural step.
“Although I think, frankly, it's too early to say whether he's done enough, or whether he'll have to be more.”
There has been criticism that the Treasury waited too long to announce the new package, having been reticent to make big financial announcements away from the traditional fiscal events like a Budget or Spring Statement.
Berry said that “feels really analogue”, and that the world has changed post-Covid when the government was forced to act very fast and make multiple reactive announcements.
“This idea that the world will hold its breath for a Budget or Spring Statements and an Autumn Statement, and everything will wait until then, I don't think we're ever going to see that again," Berry said.
"What people expect in this 24-hour media cycle is the government to react in real time to the challenges that they're facing.”
On Levelling Up, the government’s flagship policy on improving people’s lives, he agreed it was still a policy that was hard to define, because “it's about enabling people to live their best life, and that means something different to every single person”.
Berry said his constituents will “know what it is when it arrives”.
“That's why the Northern Research Group and northern Conservative MPs are so heavily pushing the government on delivery, because it’s all very well talking about things in politics.
“We waste a lot of time here in Parliament talking about things, but what makes people's mind up about who to support at an election, what actually changed their lives, is about delivering on those promises.”
He said “no one gets levelling up” like Boris Johnson, and believes he is the right person to deliver the policy, but that the PM needs to assemble a team “who focus in a really ruthless way on delivery”, which could include officials at both Cabinet level and within Number 10.
Johnson currently looks likely to face a vote on his leadership as the number of Tory MPs sending in letters of no confidence creeps ever higher, but Berry confirmed he won’t be writing to Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee, anytime soon.
"I don't think it's the job of Conservative MPs to undermine the Conservative Prime Minister,” he added.
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