The rise and rise of Norwich MP Chloe Smith
PUBLISHED: 06:30 24 October 2011 | UPDATED: 12:01 24 October 2011
Too much too young? That's the suggestion made in some quarters after Prime Minister David Cameron promoted Norwich North MP Chloe Smith to economic secretary. But, as the 29-year-old tells reporter Dan Grimmer, she's determined to prove those critics wrong.
It has been a rapid rise for Chloe Smith. A little over two years ago she was a fresh-faced newcomer to Parliament after her triumph in Norwich North. Now she has been handed a key role in the treasury,
Just as she benefited from the resignation of her Norwich North predecessor Ian Gibson after the expenses scandal, Miss Smith was elevated to minister after controversy claimed another resignation – that of defence secretary Liam Fox.
With Philip Hammond switching to defence secretary and Justine Greening stepping into his former role as transport secretary, it meant a vacancy opened up for an economic secretary to the treasury.
Prime minister David Cameron, a regular visitor to Norfolk during Miss Smith’s 2009 election campaign and the successful retention of her seat for the Conservatives the following year, was clearly impressed with what he saw, because she was his choice to fill that post.
It was last Friday that Mr Cameron came calling, but as Miss Smtih explained: “I had been in a long meeting at Heartsease Primary School, where I am a governor when my phone rang, but I didn’t answer it.
“When I came out of that meeting I had all sorts of texts and one of them was from the Downing Street switchboard, which suggested something was up.
“I called and the prime minister came on the line and offered me the job. I was surprised, but delighted, to be offered it. After all, I remain a young MP.
“But I was pleased the prime minister thought I could do it and the chancellor George Osborne also called me the same evening from the G20 meeting in Paris.”
After a Saturday spent in her constituency, which included the launch of a new coaching and safety boat for Broadland Boat Club in Thorpe St Andrew, Miss Smith was whisked down to London to be introduced to her new role.
It will see her take treasury responsibility on a range of issues, including taxation of transport, international climate change issues, North Sea oil, tax credits, child poverty, charities, excise duties and gambling, while also working on the Finance Bill.
She admitted it will be a steep learning curve. She said: “As a local MP you have a general understanding of most of the issues, but it’s a fairly broad understanding.
“Suddenly you have to become a specialist, so I’ve spent much of the week reading and testing my knowledge and getting stuck into the core areas of the job, such as responding to Commons debates on VAT matters and air passenger duty.”
On the challenges of juggling the post with constituency work, Miss Smith said: “The first thing that hits you is the hours involved.
“But I am absolutely determined to do everything here I said I would do as a local MP. I am determined to maintain that, as I really enjoy it.”
After becoming the youngest minister in government, some have questioned whether Miss Smith has the experience for such a post and one national newspaper hinted that there is some resentment among other MPs at her rapid elevation.
But Miss Smith, who was the youngest member of parliament when she won Norwich North at the age of 27 in 2009, pointed out that before embarking on a political career she had worked as a management consultant for Deloitte.
She said: “I became an MP having worked in business and all those issues remain very important and familiar. What I say to anyone who criticises is that I shall simply be doing my best as I do with everything I do.
“If I bring youthful energy to that then all the better and if I bring a fresh face to it, then I am delighted to do so. Judge me on what I do.”
Of rumours of discontent among other MPs, Miss Smith, who has been an assistant whip since last summer, said: “My Commons colleagues this week have been incredibly supportive.”
And, of a Mail on Sunday article which painted her as an ‘ice maiden’, Miss Smith said: “I read the article and I thought it was silly.
“I think people in Norwich know me to be warm and approachable and I do have a ready smile. If some journalists find that hard to deal with then that’s their problem.”
So what next? She speaks highly of her predecessor Justine Greening, who is transport secretary at the age of 42, but does she harbour ambitions of following her into the Cabinet?
She said: “It will probably sound funny, but I still think of myself as not an ambitious person. I focus very hard on the job in hand.
“I am delighted to be a local MP and my enjoyment of that does not wear off after two years. I am also delighted to have been given these other opportunities, but I take it step by step.
“I do not look ahead and I am not interested in being the next anything, but rather to do the job in hand with a smile on my face.”