"Thumbs up if I've followed you on Twitter". Photo: Getty
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The eight weirdest things we know about Grant Shapps

The Tory party chairman is in trouble again for his business alter ego, Michael Green, but that isn’t even the weirdest thing about him.

Grant Shapps, the swarthy blue-eyed estate agent masquerading as Tory party chairman, is in trouble. Michael Green, the fake name for his businessman alter ego, has come back to haunt him, like a devil on his polyester-clad shoulder.

It turns out he “screwed up” during a radio interview when he claimed that he had never had a second job while being an MP.

But his alias isn’t the only weird thing about him.

 

Pretending to be Michael Green

Shapps’s pseudonym for his work as a web marketeer (which also sounds like it’s made up) came out a while back, leading to the harrowing Kafkaesque scene of Channel 4’s Michael Crick chasing him around a sweaty series of corridors backstage at conference trying to work out who and why the mystery Michael Green is. And the identities of those mystery people who wrote testimonials for his book.


Surfing on a dollar bill

Well, not exactly, but some of his books under the Green pen name have enjoyable front covers, made all the more fun by the fact that Shapps is basically a stock image of a man in a tie.

Here’s the 20/20 Challenge ebook cover:

Photo: YouTube screengrab
 

Having punk in his blood

There’s never even a sly hint of rebellion in his eyes when Shapps smiles wetly to the camera on the Daily Politics chanting “long-term economic plan”, so it is a little strange that punk runs in his blood. Mick Jones, the Clash’s former guitarist, is his cousin.

Here’s Jones in action:

In contrast, Shapps describes his values as “work hard, play by the rules”.
 

Flying is his hobby

Ordinary hardworking millionaire businessman who just wants to get on in life Grant Shapps’s hobby is flying his £100,000 plane.

In fact, he once tried to block a plan to build 700 homes on the airfield where he keeps his plane. Pretty rich for a man who claims he prefers Nando's to The Ivy.

Piper Saratoga aircrafts, helping hard-earning people fly to the places they enjoy. Photo: Flickr/Martijn
 

Bingo is not

One of Shapps’s biggest gaffes in office was his poster boasting about the Tories’ bingo tax cut. The smug tone of self-congratulatory snobbery and a fundamental othering of working-class voters didn’t go down so well.

Photo: Twitter

 

Constantly following and unfollowing people on Twitter

Shapps has a suspicious number of followers on Twitter (84k) and has a habit of following and unfollowing hundreds of people repeatedly on the site. This has led to him to being accused of using a bot to up his numbers.

Etc.

 

Writing terrible pieces on BuzzFeed

To great hilarity and derision, Shapps first tried his hand at a listicle about energy bills. It included gratuitous capital letters, multiple pictures of Ed Miliband and a stoically melting cat.
 

Photo: "12 Facts: Why Energy Bills Are Sky High, And What We Can Do About It" screengrab


This piece wasn't positively received. So he carried on contributing articles to the site. One of them was about English Votes for English Laws, but simply betrayed a failure to grasp what speech bubbles are for.

Photo: "Ed Miliband Is In A ‘Real Pickle’ Over English Votes For English Laws. That’s According To His Own MPs" screengrab

 

Deleting the Wikipedia entry listing his O-Levels

The Observer discovered that Shapps had tweaked his Wikipedia entry to remove the information about his performance at school. Apparently it said that he “obtained four O-levels including an A in CDT”, whereas he actually obtained five – though CCHQ won’t disclose the grades he got. Though his aptitude at Craft, Design and Technology is clearly genuine. How else could he have designed the front cover of that ebook?
 

UPDATE: 15.24

Usually this mole would ignore a politician's "penchant for karaoke" because it's a classic Westminster village "hinterland" trope (if ripping off other people's ideas via your own embarrassingly incompetent performances counts as a hinterland in politics), but a vigilant Shappsologist on Twitter has reminded us of one other weird revelation about the Tory party chairman: he likes to do karaoke rapping.

From the Guardian:

He says he had a karaoke night just the other evening in this very pub. What's his speciality? "Rapper's Delight." Well let's hear it then? He looks at his minder, uncertainly. "Well this is not for broadcast," he says. And he's off, fast and furious. There's no stopping him. "I said a hip-hop/ Hippie to the hippie/ The hip hip a hop, and you don't stop, a rock it … Now what you hear is not a test – I'm rappin' to the beat … " Do many other ministers rap? "I haven't compared notes, actually. In fairness, the version I do is the short version; it's only 10 minutes."


UPDATE: 17/3/15, 10.49

Labour has done a little video about Grant "Two Jobs" Shapps:

I'm a mole, innit.

Getty.
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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.