The MP leading the plot to oust Theresa May as Prime Minister has a colourful past making him an extremely divisive figure among Conservatives. One Tory colleague, Michael Fabricant, said he would not “buy a used car” from Grant Shapps.
Mr Shapps has emerged from the shadows after keeping a low profile for a few years, but once made headlines for the wrong reasons. The former Tory Party Chairman was forced to stand down from a ministerial post following allegations of bullying and was found to have lied when he claimed to have never taken a second job.
He made front page news when it emerged he had a dual identity. Before becoming an MP, Mr Shapps founded HowToCorp, a web marketing firm offering books on how to get “stinking rich” very quickly using the pseudonym Michael Green.
Since announcing he has a list of “around 30” MPs who want to see Ms May stand down, the joke doing the rounds on Twitter is that at least three of them must be Mr Shapps, as his business website used another name – Sebastian Fox. The HowToCorp website is now deleted from the internet.
Mr Shapps insisted he has never deliberately misled over his identity and used the pseudonym to separate his roles as MP and his previous professional life, and has threatened to sue those who have suggested otherwise. He has also been accused of altering his own Wikipedia account and of randomly following thousands of people a day on Twitter in order to increase his own following.
In February 2015, he said during an interview with LBC that he had “never had a second job while being an MP. End of story”. The following month, he admitted he had – memorably saying that he had “over-firmly denied” doing other work..
He was known as a rising star during the Cameron and Osborne years, but quickly fell from grace losing three frontbench positions – first he was deposed as Tory Chairman, then dumped from a role as Minister without Portfolio, before being forced to stand down as a Trade Department Minister amid claims he failed to stamp out alleged bullying as party chair.
The party became engulfed in claims of a bullying culture in tits youth wing following the suicide of 21-year-old activist Elliott Johnson. Mr Shapps, while not accused of bullying himself, admitted: “I cannot help but feel that the steady stream of those who raised smaller, more nuanced objections, should have perhaps set alarm bells ringing sooner.”
Never far from controversy, Mr Shapps was accused of patronising working-class people after the 2014 budget, when he tweeted in support of the Tories’ bingo tax cut., saying: “Bingo. Cutting the Bingo tax and beer duty: To help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.” Mr Shapps, who consistently supported austerity measures, insisted he loves both bingo and beer and meant no offence.
Mr Shapps, who represents Welwyn Hatfield, has been accused of leading both a “Brexiteer” and a “Remain” plot through his manoeuvring against the Prime Minister, who provoked fury within the party by calling an unnecessary snap general election and then losing her majority.
Some believe it is a plot to usher in Boris Johnson as leader while others believe the end result – if a leadership contest takes place – could be a pro-Remain Prime Minister, who might stall Brexit – potentially indefinitely. Mr Shapps himself was a Remainer, but now says he is committed to Brexit, "as hard as you like". He has voted against the right to remain for EU nationals living in the UK.
Brexiteer Tory Nadine Dorries said the mutiny was being orchestrated by Remainers who she believes are determined to derail Brexit and prevent Boris Johnson winning the leadership. She also suggested Mr Shapps was being less than truthful about the number of supporters he has for the attempted coup, saying: “Diane Abbott must be doing the adding up”.
The MP claims to have the support of “one or two Cabinet ministers”, as well as 30 MPs – but has angered many within the party who feel a leadership challenge could prove disastrous for the Conservatives, potentially even triggering another general election.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove came to the defence of the Prime Minister, insisting she has a “strong mandate” from voters having won the general election.
Vice-chairman of the influential Conservative backbench 1922 Committee Charles Walker was unimpressed with the list of names – particularly Mr Shapps.
“Number 10 must be delighted to learn that it is Grant Shapps leading this alleged coup,” he said.
“Grant has many talents but the one thing he doesn’t have is a following in the party. I really think this is now just going to fizzle out.”
Tory MP Michael Fabricant was particularly scathing, saying: ”I wouldn’t buy a used car from one embittered colleague – let alone take advice from him about who should be PM.”
Mr Shapps told Sky News the list of discontented MPs existed “long before” the party met in Manchester and that Downing Street “pleaded” with him not to go public ahead of the conference.
But party whips forced his hand by briefing the media that he was the ringleader, he claimed.
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