Debutant Cabinet member Claire Coutinho MP was this morning appointed Britain’s new Energy Secretary of State, as Grant Shapps was promoted to replace Ben Wallace at the Ministry of Defence.
Elected in 2019 for the East Surrey constituency with a 24,000 majority, Coutinho, 38, had earlier been a special advisor at HM Treasury during Rishi Sunak’s spell as Chancellor.
Since last October she had served as under-secretary of state for children, families & well-being, following a year as minister for disabled persons at the Department for Work and Pensions.
An Oxford graduate in maths and philosophy, Coutinho’s career history includes spells at investment bank Merrill Lynch & accountants KPMG. Before entering Parliament she worked at the Centre for Social Justice think tank.
Backing Sunak as leader last summer in the Conservatives’ internal choice versus Truss, the Brexit-voting Coutinho is on the advisory board of Onward, the Conservatives’ centrist policy group, headed by Lord Danny Finkelstein.
Sunak created D-ESNZ earlier this year, highlighting both energy’s role in the UK’s post-Ukraine security and Net Zero goals judged inadequately stressed by the old Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
Issues awaiting its new boss include energy’s contribution to the continuing cost-of-living crisis, confirming Sunak’s declared enthusiasm for “hundreds” of new oil extraction licences, and defending the government’s implementation of its Net Zero agenda against increasingly restive Conservative media and backbenchers such as the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, headed by South Thanet MP Craig McKinley.
Modelling itself on the Europe Research Group instrumental in securing Brexit, McKinley’s ginger group enjoys close links to Tufton Street’s covertly funded Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Departing environment minister Lord Zac Goldsmith is among green-conscious Conservatives recently questioning Sunak’s commitment to combatting the planet’s climate catastrophe. Declarations last month by oil minster Andrew Tweedie that Sunak’s government will press ahead to “max out” Britain’s untapped North Sea reserves increase liberal and centrist Tories’ nervousness.
Coutinho’s links to centrist Tories such as Finkelstein may be seen as Sunak’s reassurance to Conservatives on the party’s beleaguered left.
The daughter of doctors with roots in Pune, India, Coutinho was once a contestant on the TV cooking show, ‘The Taste’, in which Nigella Lawson was a judge.
The premier’s mini-reshuffle today is caused by Ben Wallace’s intention declared in July to quit as defence secretary at the next re-shuffle, after four years in the post.
Shapps, 54, had headed D-ESNZ since its formation in February, and had run D-BEIS since last October, when he replaced Jacob Rees-Mogg, incumbent under the 45-days of Liz Truss.
Shapps, Home Secretary for six days under the self-destructing Truss, now heads military policy.
In 2012 the Welwyn Hatfield MP was permitted to remain a minister under David Cameron, – whom he had backed to lead the Tories – after revelations that in his early business career, Shapps had sold “personal wealth enhancement” software online for his How to Corp brand, under the fictitious aliases “Michael Green”, “Sebastian Fox” and “Corrine Stockheath”.
Having initially threatened legal action against his accuser, a constituent named Dean Archer, Shapps admitted in 2015 he had indeed traded under a pseudonym. He had also “over-firmly denied” having a second job while an MP, Shapps admitted.