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Liz Truss has appointed Therese Coffey deputy prime minister and health secretary during a major reshuffle of the government.
The new prime minister appointed Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor as she also made James Cleverly the foreign secretary.
Former attorney general Suella Braverman was appointed home secretary, replacing Priti Patel after she pre-emptively resigned.
The appointments mean that for the first time in history none of the great offices of state are held by white men.
Truss began her cabinet reshuffle with a cull of prominent Rishi Sunak supporters, sending Dominic Raab, Grant Shapps and Steve Barclay to the backbenches swiftly after she became prime minister.
She removed the senior figures who had backed her rival in the Tory leadership race promptly after heading to her House of Commons office following her first speech in Downing Street on Tuesday.
Coffey, the former work and pensions secretary who is regarded as Truss’s closest friend in Westminster, replaced Raab as the second in command after he described Truss’s tax plans as an “electoral suicide note”.
Coffey has spelled out her top four priorities. She told Sky News: “I’m just about to enter the department and go to meet our great civil servants I’m going to work with.
“We’ve got priorities A, B, C, D – ambulances, backlogs, care, D – doctors and dentists. And we’re going to work through that and we’ll make sure that we’re delivering for the patients”.
Asked whether she is ready for strikes, Coffey said: “I think we’ve got to be ready for patients and that’s my top priority, and how we can make best use of our department and of course the NHS in order to achieve the best outcomes for them.”
Asked what her message is to potentially demoralised NHS staff, Coffey she recognised “they’ve done excellent work” and repeated her priorities.
Who is Therese Coffey?
The 50-year-old former work and pensions secretary was widely expected to be rewarded with a key job in the Cabinet, having thrown her weight behind Truss’s Tory leadership bid early on.
The pair’s alliance is thought to stretch back to their post-university politics days, and was cemented when they were both elected as MPs of near-neighbouring eastern England constituencies in 2010.
Aside from geographic vicinity, with Coffey’s Suffolk Coastal patch almost bordering Truss’s South West Norfolk seat, they have a state education in common, as well as studies at Oxford, though several years apart.
Another thing the duo share is their love of karaoke, with Coffey known to host boozy Westminster singalongs for MPs and staff.
She came under fire when a video of her and welfare minister Will Quince singing (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life at the Conservative Party conference surfaced in 2021.
Labour called the timing of the performance, as the £20-a-week universal credit uplift was being slashed, “an insult and a disgrace”.
She also drew criticism for defending Boris Johnson on media rounds, including denying his knowledge of harassment allegations against Chris Pincher before he was appointed deputy chief whip.
Apart from broadcast appearances and leading the vocals at karaoke sessions, Coffey is said to be a private person.
As well as being a music and football enthusiast – she is a Liverpool fan – Coffey reportedly enjoys a cigar.
Born in 1971 in Lancashire, Coffey went to school in Liverpool before heading to Oxford and then to University College London to do a PhD in chemistry.
Before entering politics, she worked in finance for confectionery giant Mars and on the corporate side of the BBC.
She made two failed attempts to enter the European Parliament before securing the safe Tory Suffolk Coastal seat in 2010.
A Catholic, Coffey voted against same-sex marriage and extending abortion rights in Northern Ireland.
She landed her first government role in 2012, holding various posts including junior minister in the department for environment, food and rural affairs.
Becoming deputy prime minister is quite a promotion for Coffey, who only joined the cabinet when she was appointed work and pensions secretary by Johnson in September 2019.
At the time, she celebrated the moment by tweeting a photo of herself and Truss, saying: “I was delighted to attend my first Cabinet meeting at No 10 with my mate @trussliz showing me the ropes”.
The new prime minister clearly has confidence that her long-time ally, with her reputation for a strong work ethic and attention to detail, can handle the brief and help her steer the Downing Street ship through choppy waters.
Replacing Dominic Raab as deputy PM, Coffey’s primary duties are to stand in at prime minister’s questions and chair the cabinet if Truss is absent.
As health secretary, she will face the challenge of sorting a plan for the NHS without the guarantee of extra funds from the soon-to-be-canned national insurance hike.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.