Shapps’ appointment as defence secretary is as confusing to Tories as it is to the rest of us

Grant Shapps on a train
Support us and go ad-free

The government has now appointed Grant Shapps as defence secretary following Ben Wallace‘s resignation yesterday – and even some Tories are upset with the choice of “Rent-a-Minister” Schapps, a man who’s had five different cabinet roles in the past 12 months alone.

‘He fucked the railways, now he’ll fuck the country’

Wallace stepped down as defence minister on 31 August, having committed to doing so back in July. In his letter, Wallace wrote that he wanted to:

invest in the parts of life that I have neglected, and to explore new opportunities.

With Wallace gone, prime minister Rishi Sunak drafted in Shapps for his fifth cabinet role in the past year. The decision was immediately met with a combination of humour and horror, including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas describing the new defence secretary as a “Rent-a-Minister”:

These comments are not undeserved. Not only does Shapps’ rapid revolving-door career bring his knowledge of any specific department into question, but he also has a record of questionable decisions and outright failures.

Fake names and secret pay deals

Shapps’ mishaps run from the minor to the massive. Most famously, he used a number of pseudonyms to continue running a web marketing business banned by Google after being elected as an MP. He denied the claims for years until the Guardian exposed him in March 2015. He was the Conservative Party chair at the time.

This scandal led to Shapps’ reappointment as minister for international development. He was in this post for less than a year before resigning due to another scandal. The Guardian reported in November 2015 that Schapps:

resigned from the government in disgrace in the wake of revelations that he had been warned about bullying in the party before the death of one of its young activists.

In 2018, Labour called for an inquiry into Shapps because of his position in cryptocurrency firm OpenBrix, when he was just an MP. The Financial Times had uncovered a “secret pay deal” that saw OpenBrix planning to pay Shapps in tokens worth around £170,000. Despite that, the MP had registered his association with the company as “unpaid”.

The then-transport secretary was also caught up in the ‘VIP lanes’ scandals during the Covid-19 pandemic. Shapps referred Eyespace Eyewear through the government’s high-priority lane for PPE equipment, subsequently winning a £1.4m contract. It turned out the company is owned by one of Shapps’ constituents, though the MP denied any knowledge of that.

Not every mistake was a headline-grabber, though. Shapps has managed to fuck up in lots of small ways too. In June, the Canary reported on his avoidance of a parliamentary debate on the environmental impact of fossil fuels. He was energy secretary at the time. Meanwhile, in August last year, as transport minister, he was apparently unable to read a train timetable. And he even managed to go on holiday to Spain in August 2020 despite knowing the UK government was about to impose travel quarantine rules.

These are, of course, just some of Shapps’ many fuckups.

Shapps: encyclopedia salesman

Shapps hasn’t won many people over, as even Tories came out against Sunak’s appointment of him as defence secretary. According to Sky News, one Tory MP said:

Shapps is such an uninspired choice as defence secretary. This man… only cares about photos and gimmicky press releases. What a wasted opportunity by Rishi, who could have appointed somebody of substance.

While another unnamed MP said:

He sold encyclopedias. It’s a joke given that we’re at war.

The presenter clarified that, in fact, it is Ukraine at war and the UK is “assisting them”.

While Shapps’ rent-a-minister reputation can seem ridiculous to the public, it’s catnip to many at the top of the party. The man has shown himself willing to roll over to protect colleagues, such as during the 2015 suicide scandal when Shapps said his resignation meant the “buck should stop” with him. As the Daily Express admiringly proclaimed, Shapps is a minister “willing to get his hands dirty wherver [sic] and whenever necessary”.

Let’s face it, Shapps’ legacy of mishaps and bullshit can’t make him much worse than any other Tory senior minister right now. Those fawning over Wallace are choosing to blinker themselves to his own dodgy history, including his involvement in an expenses scandal and a bizarre lashing-out at anti-hunting activists.

What Sunak’s appointment of Shapps does show, though, is that the Tory party has run out of ideas. A general election is looming and Sunak’s desperately trying to keep everything together. However, if Shapps’ history is anything to go by, he’ll soon be helping bring the party down even further.

Featured image via UK Government/Flickr

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us