"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.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue