Grant Shapps resigned as a minister in 2015 following revelations of his involvement with a bullying scandal that had led to a young Conservative Party activist taking their own life. Few would have imagined he could ever be reappointed to cabinet, still less to a more senior role. But in July 2019 Boris Johnson replaced the hapless and incompetent Chris Grayling as Transport Minister with someone even more discredited: Grant Shapps.
Then again, Shapps is no stranger to the art of reinvention. Indeed, he has proved remarkably inventive with his own identity.
In 2012, one of his constituents noticed that, while working as an MP, Shapps had also been peddling get-rich-quick-schemes online under the assumed names ‘Michael Green’ and ‘Sebastian Fox’. The schemes, marketed by Shapps’ company How To Corp under such titles as ‘Stinking Rich 3’, promised unwary punters that they could make large amounts of money very rapidly if they followed ‘Michael Green’s’ instructions. These included the instruction to recruit more punters to sell get-rich-quick schemes to the public – a classic feature of pyramid-selling schemes.
Shapps at first attempted to deny this, saying: ‘Let me get this absolutely clear… I don’t have a second job and have never had a second job while being an MP. End of story.’ He also threatened to sue the constituent who had uncovered what he had been up to. Days later, he was forced to admit the truth, though he did this in a characteristically slippery manner, saying that he had ‘over-firmly denied’ the story.
One might think that being exposed as a liar, a huckster and a bully would have led to an immediate end to Shapps’ career in politics. Instead, he was demoted from cabinet but handed a more junior ministerial portfolio and allowed to continue as co-chair of the Conservative Party. Worse revelations were not long in coming.
In 2015, Conservative Party whistleblowers went public with allegations of vicious bullying and sexual harassment of young party volunteers by the party’s youth organiser, Mark Clarke. One of these, Elliott Johnson, had been driven to take his own life. And it became clear that Shapps – who had worked closely with Clarke – had been made aware of the situation and had not only failed to act but had promoted Clarke to a more senior role.
Johnson’s father called for Shapps to resign, saying: ‘Clearly these senior members of the party have been telling lies. You wonder about the people running the country – whether they’re fit to govern. If they had behaved responsibly, like any other organisation, none of these events would have happened; my son would still be alive and many activists wouldn’t have been intimidated and harassed.’
Shapps was finally forced to resign as a minister, which allowed him more time for his other pursuits. By this time, sadly, Google had blacklisted Shapps’ network of websites for breaching its rules on copyright infringement. His venture into the exciting new world of bitcoin was also to come to grief. In 2018, Shapps was forced to quit the board of tech firm OpenBrix following revelations of a secret payment deal at a time when he was co-chair of the all-party Parliamentary group on blockchain – which explores opportunities and challenges posed by crypto-currencies such as bitcoin. Naturally, Shapps had failed to declare this arrangement in the parliamentary register of interests.
Lying, bullying, combining politics with the ruthless pursuit of personal profit… These sociopathic characteristics have richly earned Shapps his place in the Cabinet of Horrors.