The Tory awkward squad have moved on to the subject of poverty – so expect another Boris Johnson U-turn

·3-min read
Conservative MP Steve Baker (AFP via Getty Images)
Conservative MP Steve Baker (AFP via Getty Images)

Over the past few years, the Tory Party’s right wing clique of troublemakers have made not just one name for themselves but several.

Not that long ago, they were simply the ERG – the European Research Group – but so successful were they, and somewhat to their own surprise, at forcing through a far more right-wing version of Brexit than even Nigel Farage had ever dared to dream, that further research groups have since been spawned.

There’s the Covid Research Group, or rather the Covid Recovery Group, and the Northern Research Group, and others. These groups, by and large, are characterised by containing almost all of the same people, and through a complete lack of actual research, in favour of getting their way by brute numerical force.

It’s possible normal people might know some of the names involved by now. Steve Baker is former head of the ERG and deputy head of the CRG. Then there’s Andrew Bridgen, who is largely anonymous outside Westminster and, in a sense, also anonymous within it, in that any and all absurd anonymous quotes from a “senior Tory MP” that appear in any of the newspapers are instantly assumed to be his.

The CRG didn’t quite get its way, as it amounted to little more than an anti-lockdown pressure group, and the prime minister couldn’t be pressured into being any more anti-lockdown than he already was, and is.

But their current battle is arguably the most fascinating of all. Last week Andrew Bridgen appeared on Channel 4 News to describe the plan to cut the universal credit uplift as “morally and politically impossible”.

In September, the government plans to remove the extra £20 a week it had added to universal credit payments during the pandemic, which has naturally met with widespread dismay, but even wider than it might have expected.

And now Steve Baker has said the £20 a week “wasn’t enough”, and that is before it is due to be removed regardless.

A study by Sheffield University has concluded that Mr Baker’s Wycombe constituency has the highest level of food insecurity in the country, prompting him to tell The Guardian: “I have told colleagues time and again during my time in parliament that poverty extends into my constituency in south Buckinghamshire.”

A full six Conservative former work and pensions secretaries – Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green, Esther McVey, Stephen Crabb, David Gauke and Amber Rudd – have also warned that the cancellation of the uplift is the wrong move.

The traditional Tory troublemakers, over the past few years, have had a habit of getting their own way, though not entirely. The way they have traditionally sought to get, however, is very much a more right wing one, though they might describe it as libertarian.

If Boris Johnson is going to cling on to even the vaguest notion that he is in any way serious about “levelling up” the country, he will find it especially difficult to ignore his own MPs, telling him that he cannot simply ignore growing and widespread poverty in places like Buckinghamshire.

Do not, in other words, be surprised to find another U-turn coming.

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