• Wednesday, April 24, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Claire Coutinho could be Sunak’s pick for Chancellor, says report

British Secretary of State for Energy Security Claire Coutinho (left) with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a visit to Baker Hughes in Montrose, Angus, Britain on March 1. (Michal Wachucik/Pool via REUTERS)

By: Shajil Kumar

With the general elections around the corner, there is now speculation that energy secretary Claire Coutinho could get yet another plum posting.

Quoting Whitehall sources, Politico has said the Asian-origin politician, whose career trajectory witnessed a rapid rise under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, could be his chancellor in waiting.

During a media interaction in January, when asked repeatedly Sunak had conceded that the current chancellor Jeremy Hunt would stay till the election, but two of the prime minister’s former aides told the publication that Downing Street’s ultimate plan is to fight the general election with Coutinho installed at the Treasury.

They argue that with the party split and straggling in the polls — and some heavyweights like Hunt on track to lose their seats — Sunak will want his best performers and staunchest allies in top posts.

Some of the sources Politico interviewed see Coutinho, a long-time Sunak ally, getting the top job as a possibility. They feel the induction of the first woman chancellor could grab headlines and put Labour on the defensive.

One MP, who had worked with Coutinho, even went to the extent to say she would do a better job than Hunt.

Coutinho already helps Sunak prep for the weekly Commons event prime minister’s questions, and a cabinet elevation would mean she will be even closer to Sunak’s inner circle.

However, not everyone believes Sunak will make such a move as they see 38-year-old Coutinho as someone inexperienced for the crucial job – she got elected only in 2019.

They felt that to be chancellor one needs to be well-informed and be a good media performer. Otherwise, she might get exposed by the media and cabinet colleagues.

But Sunak has been betting big on Coutinho.

Last year he provided her a seat at the Cabinet table as energy secretary, after being a junior minister at the department for education.

She was entrusted with the challenge of steering the UK to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a legally binding target.

In her current role, Coutinho is the ultimate arbiter of plans to overhaul the UK’s electricity system, decides on huge infrastructure projects such as solar farms and nuclear plants, and faces the ire of climate campaigners.

Her colleagues say her work ethic stands out even in the workaholic Westminster.

They see her as hard-working and zealous about fulfilling her role, and one minister described her as tough and having ‘an inner steel’.

She is also known to be very level-headed and not given to losing her temper while dealing with her staff and civil servants.

However, going by the recent opinion surveys the chances of Conservatives winning the forthcoming election appear bleak.

If Tories end up in opposition, Sunak loyalists may fall out of favour.

His rivals like Suella Braverman are more likely to gain prominence in the Conservative party.

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