Tory party chair Jake Berry rapidly alienating fellow MPs – and voters

It is perhaps fair to say that few ministers will emerge from the Conservative conference with their reputations enhanced. But it is also arguable that not many would have expected Jake Berry to be among the particular casualties.

Berry, the Rossendale and Darwen MP since 2010 and the longtime chair of the Northern Research Group, was made party chair by Liz Truss in the hope his links with the “red wall” MPs, for whom he was something of a pioneer, would keep a new, untested government in touch with voters.

But less than a month into the job and Berry is in danger of attracting a reputation for misfiring media appearances, and for alienating the very MPs he is tasked with keeping onside.

Many of Berry’s travails at the conference in Birmingham were, of course, a direct result of wider difficulties. He was by no means the only minister to spend all Sunday vigorously defending the scrapping of the 45p tax rate, only for the policy to be dumped by Kwasi Kwarteng before 8am on Monday.

Berry did, however, raise some hackles by making it plain that he believed any Tory MPs who failed to back Truss’s mini-budget in an eventual parliamentary vote should lose the whip.

Any hopes that his comments, made in a Sunday morning TV interview, might douse a rebellion were quashed when Michael Gove, the former levelling up secretary, told a series of conference fringe events that he would still vote against the 45p plan.

Berry’s interview with Sky News featured several other hiccups, including an apparent suggestion, part of a slightly muddled parallel with government spending, that families facing higher energy bills “can either cut their consumption, get a higher salary, or go out there and get that new job”.

He also said it was “nonsense” to say that the planned tax cuts would disproportionately help the richest Britons. After being shown a graph from the Resolution Foundation thinktank showing this was the case, Berry said he could not see it.

It is fair to say that Berry, who also holds the cabinet position of minister without portfolio, is not the only MP-facing minister in the firing line. Some backbenchers have talked about whether Wendy Morton, the chief whip, should lose her post over the threats about the whip.

But it is undeniable that Berry’s very public intervention mainly served to harden the rebels’ resolve. Several said they chose to go public with their concerns as quickly as possible to show the number of them at risk of losing the whip.

This wave of dissent so alarmed Truss that she felt obliged to call several other trusted ministers to gauge the backbench strength of feeling over the 45p rate, before deciding on the U-turn.

For some, the verdict is already in on Berry. “He’s probably our worst performing cabinet minister so far – one disaster per utterance,” a former minister said. “Even Kwasi has a better record.”