Rishi’s latest reshuffle reinforces his managerial style
By Peter Cardwell, Senior Counsel
Rishi Sunak has played it safe today, bringing in one of his best friends in politics to be Energy Security & Net Zero Secretary. Claire Coutinho, who I have known for 20 years, is a key Sunak ally, having served as special adviser to Sunak when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Previously, she was a special adviser in the whips’ office during the Theresa May administration, so knows the party better than many of her intake, having worked in a time of great political upheaval during the Brexit negotiations.
She’s a creature of the Treasury, too, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sunak as Chancellor, continuing their close association almost since the moment she was elected as MP for the rock solid Conservative seat of East Surrey in 2019. Having been made a minister in the Department for Education less than a year ago, Coutinho’s elevation from the most junior ministerial rank to Cabinet is a huge promotion. As a former banker, it will be interesting how she views the Government’s commitment to Net Zero within the tangle of the economic pain versus environmental benefit balance within this huge policy area.
The elevation of Grant Shapps to Defence Secretary is also a classic Sunak move – strong and stable, as Theresa May used to say. Shapps is reliable, good at media and won’t cause nearly as many rows as his predecessor Ben Wallace did as Defence Secretary. He’ll be loyal to Sunak too, like Coutinho. But Defence is a tough, complex brief, and whilst Shapps is very experienced as a minister on domestic policy, his international experience is limited.
The mini-reshuffle, which also involves 2019 intake MP David Johnston filling Coutinho’s former role at Education, is a calm, measured move before the headwinds Sunak faces coming into a busy autumn. He faces a tricky party conference in Manchester, a consistent lag in the polls, a King’s Speech and Autumn Statement that will be high on expectation and perhaps low on what is politically possible, to say nothing of the looming report card on his five pledges coming in the early New Year.
Today was about no real surprises. Eyebrows, however, especially from some more junior MPs passed over for promotion in favour of Coutinho, have been raised. But the drama is non-existent, the managerial, steady style of Rishi Sunak continues, far away from the chaos of his two immediate predecessors.