The Conservative Party chairman has said he does not “understand” some of the points made by former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries after she warned that Liz Truss needs to change course or risk a landslide defeat at the next general election.
Jake Berry said the former culture secretary is “a very fine individual and a very fine Conservative”, but hit back at her criticism of the new Government.
He said he hoped Tory colleagues would listen to the Prime Minister’s message at conference and realise her “bold vision” for the country.
It follows a bruising few days in Birmingham for Ms Truss after just a month in the job, including a U-turn over a totemic tax policy and dissent within her Cabinet.
In an interview with The Times, Ms Dorries accused the Government of “lurching to the right”, and warned the Prime Minister had made “big mistakes” in her first few weeks in No 10.
But Mr Berry said he did not “understand” or “agree with” some of her comments.
He told LBC: “I’ve seen that article by Nadine, I must admit (I am) quite good friends with Nadine and I think she’s a very fine individual and a very fine Conservative, but quite a lot of what we have done hasn’t been just about cutting people’s taxes – though of course people are getting the cut in income tax.
“Quite a lot of it is, you know, action on energy bills. I’m not sure that Nadine Dorries would like to see, you know, energy bills go up to £6,000 per household because of the action we have taken. They will now on average be £2,500.”
Mr Berry also took a swipe at Ms Dorries’s own record in Government, pointing out that she was part of a Cabinet that supported the decision to raise corporation tax – a move he claimed was “wrong” for the economy.
Ms Dorries was a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care at the time the policy was announced by then-chancellor Rishi Sunak in March 2021. She was promoted to culture secretary that September.
The Tory chairman said: “We have, of course, cancelled the increase in corporation tax and I know that… she was part of a Cabinet that supported that. I personally think that was the wrong thing to do for our economy.
“I think when businesses face a really tough winter ahead of them, the one thing they really don’t need – when we’re asking them to support families and make those investments, give people those pay rises – the one thing they really don’t need is a 6% increase in business taxes.
“And so, you know, I’ve seen some of the comments by Nadine, I don’t understand some of them and some of them I don’t agree with.”
Ms Dorries told The Times: “I understand that we need to rocket-booster growth but you don’t do that by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“You don’t win elections by lurching to the right and deserting the centre ground for Keir Starmer to place his flag on.
“If we continue down this path, we absolutely will be facing a Stephen Harper-type wipeout. I’m sure she’s listened and will stop and rethink.”
Former Canadian prime minister Mr Harper lost power to Justin Trudeau in the 2015 election.
Mr Berry actually suggested the current tax position is “very similar” to when Ms Dorries was in Government.
He told Times Radio: “What I would say to Nadine is to look really carefully at the Prime Minister’s speech.
“I think she set out a vision that is something that every Conservative MP, former minister or not, can get behind.
“I also noticed on the front page of The Telegraph that they’re actually saying the tax burden is going up, so it can’t both be right. In fact, the tax position is very similar to what it was when Nadine was in Government.”
The former culture secretary also said that benefits should rise with inflation, arguing a hike in line with wages would be “cruel, unjust and fundamentally unconservative”.
But Mr Berry said the Government needs to wait until inflation figures are available to make a decision.
“The inflation figures that are used are the inflation figures for the autumn. The Government actually doesn’t have those figures at the moment,” he told Times Radio.
“So rather than people asking us… rather than people expecting us to guess, we’ve got to wait until those figures are available, at which point the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Chancellor will decide how those benefits should be uprated, that will come to the Cabinet, and they will be discussed and a decision will be announced in due course.
“You simply cannot make a decision on figures you do not currently have.”
He told GB News the “arena for discussion” on this is the Cabinet room.
“My own personal view is that those Cabinet discussions which will take place once those figures are known, once we can make a decision based on fact, should take place around the Cabinet table,” he said.
“A decision should be made collectively and whatever people’s own views, the arena for discussion is the Cabinet room and that’s where those discussions should stay.”