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Rachel Reeves: Britain’s first woman finance chief


Britain’s first woman finance minister Rachel Reeves.
| Photo Credit: AP

Rachel Reeves, Britain’s first woman finance minister, is a former child chess champion and Bank of England economist who has pledged to grow the nation’s economy while showing strong fiscal discipline.

Reeves, 45, becomes chancellor of the exchequer after her centre-left Labour party won Thursday’s U.K. general election by a landslide, ending 14 years of rule by the right-wing Conservatives.


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“It is the honour of my life to have been appointed chancellor of the exchequer,” Ms. Reeves wrote on social media platform X after her appointment by new Prime Minister Keir Starmer.

“To every young girl and woman reading this, let today show that there should be no limits on your ambitions.”

Labour had put the economy at the heart of its election manifesto, targeting growth and wealth creation as key priorities in government, while its emphasis on the latter is not normally associated with the party’s traditionally leftist policies.

“Economic growth was the Labour Party’s mission,” Ms. Reeves added on Friday.

“It is now a national mission. Let’s get to work,” said the married mother of two children.

‘Iron chancellor’

Ms. Reeves recently told company bosses that Labour had become “the natural party of British business”, adding that the party would show “iron discipline” over public finances.

The comments drew comparisons with ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister.

Unlike Conservative leader Thatcher, who privatised key sectors after becoming prime minister in 1979, Ms. Reeves wants a form of renationalisation, notably for energy, as she takes inspiration from policy enacted by US President Joe Biden.

Labour has pledged to create Great British Energy, a publicly owned company that would spearhead funding, alongside the private sector, for the “green” transition away from fossil fuels.

James Wood, senior teaching associate in political economy at the University of Cambridge, said Labour and Reeves were seeking a “responsible” approach to the public purse.

“When she talks about being an iron chancellor, I think what she means is: we’re going to balance the books and we’re going to be responsible — and we’re going to try and get Britain’s economy running… in a responsible way,” he told AFP.

London-born Ms. Reeves tapped into public anger over Mr. Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss, whose unfunded 2022 mini-budget crashed the pound and sent mortgage rates soaring, worsening a cost-of-living crisis.

“They want to distance themselves from fiscal irresponsibility, not making big promises about spending that they can’t possibly keep,” Wood added.

Banking career

Ms. Reeves, whose parents were teachers, is no stranger to outmanoeuvring opponents.

She became British girls’ chess champion aged 14 before studying philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford, which was followed by a Master’s degree at the London School of Economics.

After graduating, she worked as an economist for a decade, first at the Bank of England before switching to the private sector.

While working for British retail bank HBOS, the global financial crisis struck in 2008, resulting in her employer receiving a huge bailout, along with other lenders, from Gordon Brown’s Labour government.

In 2010, when the Conservatives entered power in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Reeves was elected Labour MP for Leeds West in northern England.

Eleven years later, Starmer appointed her as Labour’s finance spokesperson. Her sister Ellie Reeves is also a Labour MP.



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