MP for East Surrey, Claire Coutinho, only discovered her political ambitions in recent years:
“I was very into maths as a child. I started my career in finance, then moved into public policy numbers, looking at social justice policies. In 2018, I became a special advisor at the Treasury, and that was the first time I began working in Parliament, with MPs. Seeing their role up close, listening to people and helping solve their problems, inspired me to put myself forward. In 2019, I was selected for East Surrey.”
To find out more about what Claire does, the Caterham Independent visited her parliamentary office. After a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament with her communications officer Jack Powell, we dropped in on Prime Minister’s Questions, before sitting down with Claire.
Prepping for Parliament
An early riser, Claire checks her emails, responds to anything urgent and decides the agenda for the day ahead, before she leaves for London.
Once she has arrived at her office, she meets with her team to look at the preparation needed to support her schedule. Claire elaborates:
“No two days are the same, but I usually start in Parliament, with questions for specific government departments, DEFRA, or housing, for example, which often involve pieces of casework from constituents. We’ll use this time to confirm details, and what I am going to ask. Later, there might be a debate I’m speaking in, a meeting to attend or a call with a constituent to make: we ensure I am ready for those, too.”
Claire also supports the work of the Treasury, so later in the day she may be required to sit in on one of their debates. At other times, she may need to take briefing calls, or chair a local roundtable, as was the case recently when she met Tandridge residents and council leaders to discuss issues surrounding HGVs.
With Jack’s help, Claire also finds time during the day to plan, and write, all her communications:
“We have our own newsletter, and I write for Tandridge parish newsletters, too. And, of course, my letter features in the Caterham Independent every month, as well! We also regularly post and publish videos on Facebook.”
Improving maths skills
Alongside her work for East Surrey residents and the Treasury, Claire’s role incorporates being part of the national legislature:
“I’ve been looking at maths skills, which is something that, as a country, I think we need to improve on. So, I’ve met with experts in that area, spoken at policy events about the issues, and tried to spread the policy ideas I’ve been working on. I generally do things like this after my office hours, so my days can often be long.”
Claire holds regular surgeries in Tandridge, where constituents can approach her for help with a number of wide-ranging issues.
“It’s always so different: every person you speak to could cover a completely different area of policy. Someone might talk about difficulties they’re having negotiating the special educational needs system. Some people need help with housing, or claiming benefits. Others discuss local policy, such as planning or the environment.”
One of the most satisfying aspects of being an MP, Claire says, is when she is able to directly influence positive change:
“A woman visited my surgery after struggling to get an accurate diagnosis for her young child, who had been very ill for a long time. Eventually, it was discovered the child had a condition which was shared with only approximately 1,000 other children in the country. I was able to set up a meeting between her and the health secretary and, as a result, we were able to get the guidelines changed for doctors, so they can be more aware of this particular diagnosis.”
It is not just weekdays that are busy for Claire: weekends accommodate constituency visits, attendance at local events and more talking to residents, which she greatly enjoys:
“I love meeting people. My constituents are friendly, interesting and thoughtful, and an important part of my role is listening to their views and feeding them back to government. I want to be an accessible and visible MP: my residents know I am here to represent them.”
When Claire has free time, she walks in the beautiful countryside around Bletchingley, Outwood and Titsey, or drops into one of the district’s many cafes, restaurants and pubs.
“The cakes at The Green Rooms in Godstone are amazing, and I always stop off in Caterham for The Kerala’s dosas. I also go to Botley Hill Farmhouse, in Warlingham, and The Red Barn in Lingfield. I like to relax and eat, and we’re so lucky: there are lots of brilliant places here!”
To contact Claire, email email@example.com
We’d like to thank Claire, Jack and the rest of her team for welcoming us, and giving up their time to talk to us.