Grant Shapps: great political survivor and reliable Tory attack dog | Grant Shapps


Grant Shapps has proved a vital problem solver to Conservative leaders he has served under, and a feared troublemaker to those who left him out in the cold.

A versatile minister, he was privately described by Liz Truss as “one of the most competent secretaries of state” and “probably the best communicator in government”. But when he was not included in her cabinet when she became prime minister, Shapps helped bring Truss down. He was behind a similar putsch during Theresa May’s premiership.

Sunak has sought to build a team of unflashy, pragmatic and competent ministers. However, his appointment of Shapps suggests the prime minister realises he needs to focus more on punching back at the Conservatives’ waning electoral fortunes.

Shapps, a trusted media performer, has often been sent out on the airwaves at the last minute to defend sticky situations the government has found itself in.

He is relatively popular within the party, and also one of the most exuberant attack dogs willing to take the fight to Labour.

But Tory MPs are already raising questions about his suitability for such an important job. After all, it is often said the first priority of the government is the defence and security of the country.

Shapps has served in cabinet for many years, but solely in domestic briefs. Most recently, he was the energy security and net zero secretary and, briefly, when Truss sought unsuccessfully to shore up her doomed premiership, home secretary. Before that, he served as transport secretary and the Conservative party chair.

Although he has now held five posts in 12 months, some people are already questioning why he was picked for defence secretary given there were ample other contenders with more relevant experience.

Shapps has managed to climb back up the rungs of government after two dramatic falls from grace.

Born in Hertfordshire in 1968, Shapps studied business and finance at Manchester Metropolitan University. In 2001, he made an unsuccessful run to become MP for Welwyn Hatfield before a successful attempt four years later. A literal high flyer (he holds a pilot’s licence), he was given a job as communities minister in the first Tory-led government under David Cameron, and was later party chair.

But he was catapulted from the cabinet in 2015 after a row over bullying of Tory activists. Shapps maintained he had not been warned about the issue before the death of an activist, but tendered his resignation on the grounds that “responsibility should rest somewhere”.

He has had a chequered CV. Shapps was accused of possibly breaching the code of conduct for ministers and MPs when it was revealed he had held a second job after entering parliament, something he had repeatedly denied. “To be absolutely clear: I don’t have a second job and I have never had a second job whilst being an MP. End of story,” Shapps said to LBC at the time.

But a recording from 2006 obtained by the Guardian revealed the MP selling a business self-help guide Stinking Rich 3 and claiming his products could make listeners a “ton of cash by Christmas”. He later came clean, saying he had “over-firmly denied” having a second job, and admitted to the BBC he had “screwed up” on dates.

Shapps was later exposed as having continued working as a marketer of get-rich-quick schemes under the pseudonym Michael Green. He had established a web sales business, HowToCorp, which claimed that clients who spent $200 on its software could “make $20,000 in 20 days guaranteed or your money back”.

It also emerged he had deleted information from his Wikipedia page, such as the names of donors to his private office – including a peculiar edit to omit a reference to his studies at Watford grammar school for boys.

Shapps has made a name for himself in Tory circles as popular and attuned to the grassroots, and made himself an indispensable political ally with meticulous spreadsheets used to monitor MPs’ gripes about the government of the day. Prime ministers have learned it is safer to have him inside the tent than out.

He is a keen TikToker, putting him at odds with the government’s stance banning the use of the video service on official devices.

Shapps is a cousin of Mick Jones, the lead guitarist of the Clash.

In appointing Shapps, one of the great political survivors of the past 13 years, Sunak hopes the minister will help him on the Tories’ ever-narrower path to victory at the next election.

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