The literary efforts of the “author” Grant Shapps may not be to all tastes, if to any, but give the Tiggerish little bounder some credit. He has enriched the language by adding to the lexicon of cockney rhyming slang.
A few weeks after the Tory chairman told LBC that he has never had a second job since becoming MP for Welwyn Hatfield in 2005, Shappsy has been caught with his pants ablaze. Video footage from 2006 places him at a $3,000-per-delegate US internet conference, flogging his brand of get-rich-quick-quackery under the legendary nom de plume of Michael Green. With trademark rigid honesty, he has since confessed that he “over-firmly denied” that his moonlighting ended when he entered parliament.
Apples and pears – stairs. Cobbler’s awls – balls. Barnet fair – hair… Now don your pearly sequins and join me in the Lambeth Walk as we welcome “Over-firm denier – out-and-out liar” to the list. As in, “I finished that book about Richard Nixon the missus gave me for Christmas last night, me old china. A right bleedin’ overfirm, and no mistake.”
It should be noted that some impartial analysts discern nothing troublesome in this. One, a certain Grant Shapps, tweeted: “Old story: all properly declared at the time… Labour just hate business.” A Tory spokesperson pointed out that using a sobriquet is a familiar authorial ploy, which is of course true. An author of similar stature, Mary Anne Evans, wrote as George Eliot. You will recall her 1875 sequel, Middlemarch II, in which Mr Casuabon sells his imaginary magnum opus The Key To All Mythologies: How To Monetise The Riddle of the Sphinx to 17 publishers.
Meanwhile, an earlier Tory contributor to the rhyming slang dictionary, Jeremy Hunt, portrayed the reporting as an “unbelievable attack” from the leftie-liberal nexus of carping envy. “His sin not 2 use pseudonym but 2 write books about to how 2 create wealth,” tweeted Hunt, whose major literary influence may be Flaubert, “shock horror …”. Without getting into a theological dogfight about sin with as devout a Bible-reader as Hunt, is that really the one at issue here? Or is the relevant sin being what is known in Ecclesiastes as “a bit of a dodgepot”?
Here, lest our lawyers have a funny turn, caution is indicated. We have also learned this week that Shappsy is litigious when his honesty is impugned. Dean Archer, a constituent, last year suggested on Facebook that the MP’s double life as Michael Green rendered his description of Ukip defector Mark Reckless as “a liar” a shade hypocritical. He received a legal letter demanding the item’s removal, an apology, damages and costs. Archer means to seek compensation for the stress suffered. If he wins a lavish pay-out, it could be the first time Grant Shapps realised his pledge to make someone rich quick.
Other than that it isn’t in the higher echelons of Government, it is hard to be sure where Shappsy belongs. He reminds a friend of mine of Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad (and now the wondrous Better Call Saul), the shyster lawyer who changed his name from Jimmy McGill because he reckoned punters trust a Jewish attorney more than an Irish one. But my friend adds the rider that where Saul is clever, endearing and riotously amusing…
Shapps puts me in mind of the guy with blingy rings who tried to sell me laser surgery on a deviated septum (as unrecommended by all leading ENT specialists) in one of those Harley Street clinics that are as regulated as a Wild West saloon. “Side-effects?” he said. “It’s perfect! You worry too much. By the way, I’ve got a lovely weight-loss pill just in from the States. I’ve lost 15lbs, my wife’s lost 15lbs…” And how, I asked, does it work. “You lose weight.” Thanks, I got that, but why? Does it raise the heart rate? “Yes, that’s it.” So it’s an amphetamine? “No. I told you. It’s a pill.”
I never had the procedure, but even a permanently blocked nostril can smell much that is unsavoury here. It isn’t only the shortcuts to wealth Shapps offered the gullible in the guise of Green, or the over-firm denial that he did so, or even that he peddled software that promised to make the purchaser “$20,000 in 20 days or your money back”, which looked spookily like a pyramid scheme.
What also stinks, Andy Coulson fashion, is David Cameron’s judgement in raising this bumptious, spivvy hybrid of a third-rate televangelist and minor Arthur Daley associate to such a height. This close to the election, with a pliant Tory press barely covering the story, Cameron has given his chairman full support. To the question, “Should I stay or should I go?” posed by Shappsy’s cousin Mick Jones of The Clash, the answer is that he will stay – playing Muttley to Lynton Crosby’s ocker Dick Dastardly, at least until 8 May.
One could write about what the rise of Grant Shapps reveals about early millennial British politics and the electorate’s loss of faith in it, but why waste the words when it speaks for itself? Instead, in an eleventh-hour bid to build bridges with Shappsy – bridges a man of his inventiveness might well try to sell to gullible Americans – let’s end on an upbeat note by observing this. In his singular way, no one is better qualified as purveyor of choicest Tory policies in the weeks ahead than the “author” whose literary oeuvre and entrepreneurial career might be condensed into, “Sell any old crap, ’cause there’s one born every minute.”