Rishi Sunak completed a small cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday (7 February), as the Conservatives gear up for a vital period in the run up to the next general election.
The Prime Minister’s changes to his top team, which have been criticised as a drain on resources, include the creation of a new Energy Security and Net Zero department and the appointment of Greg Hands to the role of party chair following the sacking of Nadhim Zahawi. Hands will now play a major role in the Tory campaigning machine ahead of the upcoming May local elections.
One of the other key appointments made by Sunak was the elevation of Lucy Frazer from Levelling Up minister to Culture Secretary. Replacing Michelle Donelan, the promotion means Frazer will work in a Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that finds itself on the frontline of the culture wars - a position it has assumed under several of Frazer’s predecessors, including Nadine Dorries and Oliver Dowden.
She arrives at a key time for DCMS given it is trying to push through a much-challenged Online Safety Bill, which some believe may never make it out of Parliament.
So, who exactly is Lucy Frazer and what can we expect from her as Culture Secretary?
Who is Lucy Frazer?
Lucy Frazer, 50, is the MP for South East Cambridgeshire - a mostly rural constituency in East Anglia that includes the City of Ely and the town of Soham.
Before becoming a Conservative Party MP in 2015, Frazer was a barrister specialising in commercial law. She became a King’s Counsel in 2013.
Upon entering Parliament, she initially served on the education select committee. Despite voting remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, Frazer has progressed through the Tory ranks.
She was a parliamentary under secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice under Theresa May from January 2018 to May 2019, before being promoted to the minister for prisons by Boris Johnson. Much of her time in the role was actually spent covering for then-Solicitor General Suella Braverman’s maternity leave.
Between September 2021 and September 2022, Frazer was financial secretary in the Treasury, where she mostly worked under Rishi Sunak. During Liz Truss’s short spell as Prime Minister, she was moved to the Department for Transport. She then supported Rishi Sunak in the Conservative leadership contest.
But on 26 October 2022, her old boss Sunak moved her to the high-profile role of minister for levelling up - a key pledge to grow the economy in deprived parts of the UK that won the Tories the 2019 General Election.
Is Lucy Frazer controversial?
Frazer’s time in Parliament has not been without controversy. She was forced to apologise for a joke she made about Scots being sent as “slaves to the colonies” in her maiden speech in 2015 - a reference to Oliver Cromwell, who used to live in her constituency. No doubt, this episode will be brought up at some point given her new role as the government’s lead on UK culture.
While Frazer was at the Treasury, there were calls for her to quit and be investigated over an alleged conflict of interest. Her husband David Leigh heads up recruitment company AMS that has won £15 billion in government contracts, with some of the workers found to be on tax avoidance schemes.
She did not comment on the claims publicly but a government spokesperson said she had “complied with the requirements” set out in the ministerial code and rejected that there was a conflict of interest. AMS said it did not condone the tax avoidance schemes in question.
Frazer also caused controversy when she appeared on BBC Question Time in October 2022. During a testy exchange with David Lammy on the show, she resurrected the contested Boris Johnson era claim that the Conservatives have built 40 new hospitals. It is a controversial policy given most of the ‘new hospitals’ earmarked are actually new units within, extensions to or refurbishments of existing hospitals. Only three of the hospitals included in the plan can be described as ‘new’.
From this performance, it would appear that we can expect another combative presence in DCMS. But Frazer’s legal know-how may prove crucial if the government wants to get its landmark Online Safety Bill through the House of Commons.