New generation of MPs rise in east of England

When she won the Norwich North by-election in 2009 Chloe Smith became the youngest MP in parliament.

At the weekend, at the grand age of 29 years, 4 months and 27 days she became the youngest minister in government, promoted to Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

"I was surprised," she tells us.

"I am also very happy and very proud. It feels quick to me but I'm pleased to have the Prime Minister's confidence.

"There'll be many late nights ahead, there's a lot to do in this job. The economy is the biggest thing facing the country at the moment, so I'm pleased to get a chance to do my bit to help out."

High flying

Her career has taken off in a way she probably never imagined.

A former management consultant and Tory staffer, no-one in the Conservative high command expected her to win her seat, held by the very popular Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson, first time around.

But that was before the expenses scandal broke and politics was turned on its head.

Norwich North became one of the most high profile elections of the last parliament.

Miss Smith won comfortably with a majority of more than 7,000, overturning the previous Labour majority of 5,500.

By-election winner

"It's always been clear that the Tory leadership thought highly of her," says James Forsyth of The Spectator.

"Being a by-election winner is quite a difficult thing. You suddenly find yourself thrown into a media scrum and she handled herself with great aplomb.

"She was made a whip in the new government so I think this promotion was expected. She was a natural fit in the Treasury team."

"She's ideal for the job," says her friend and colleague Elizabeth Truss (SW Norfolk).

"She's straight down the line, she's very competent, very trustworthy and very energetic and I think it's a great opportunity for her and for the Treasury."

Labour promotion

And it's a sign of the times: the new generation of politicians is starting to be noticed.

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Image caption Gavin Shuker is one of the rising stars in Labour's shadow team

The Labour leader has been bringing a lot of young faces too into his shadow ministerial team.

The youngest (also promoted at 29) is the Luton South MP, Gavin Shuker, a shadow DEFRA minister.

"I've seen some brilliant ministers in government in their 30s and some awful ones in their 50s," he says.

"The reality is that it's not so much about age but about competency. I suspect it's more about what you are than how old you are."

And he disagrees with those who say that a minister under 30 doesn't have enough life experience.

"I think it's more about the choices you've made with the time that you've had than what you've actually done to fit a certain model.

"There's lots of different people in parliament with a range of experiences and we need them all."

New generation

"I believe if you're good enough, you're old enough," says Ms Truss.

"We need to bring new people in with all kinds of experience. Chloe is someone with business experience which is what we need in government."

Ms Truss is playing a leading role in the debate over what her party should be standing for at the next election.

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Image caption Chloe Smith has become the youngest minister in government

The Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock is a key member of the unofficial team behind the Chancellor.

The Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman (aged 44) is the government's life sciences advisor.

Louise Mensch (Corby), Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) and Julian Huppert (Cambridge) have all been making names for themselves on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, as has Michael Ellis (Northampton North) on the Home Affairs Select Committee.

And although David Cameron would prefer not be reminded, Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) and Andrea Leadsom (Northamptonshire South) have become standard bearers for the Euro-sceptic side of the party.

Women drivers

"The Tory party lost so much talent during the Blair/Brown years," says The Spectator's Mr Forsyth.

"It lost so many good MPs when Blair kept thumping them, and so in many ways the most talented people in the party are from the 2010 crop."

Also this weekend, the influential Conservative Home website named a number of women MPs from the 2010 intake which it expects to become ministers in the near future.

They include Priti Patel (Witham), Therese Coffey, Elizabeth Truss, Andrea Leadsom and Louise Mensch.

The class of 2010 is getting into the driving seat.