How damaging for the Tories is the row about Grant Shapps’ second job? While it is quite easy to write up the Conservative chairman’s business past in a way that makes him sound like a slightly murky character teaching people how to make a ‘ton of cash’, does the latest story, that Shapps was still running his web marketing business when in Parliament, despite his claims to the contrary, really cut through to voters?
The details are as follows: Shapps told LBC three weeks ago that ‘I’ve never had a second job while being an MP, end of story’. But a tape from the summer of 2006 has Michael Green (Shapps) talking about people making a ‘ton of cash’ from his business techniques.
Labour’s John Mann has already dived in to call on Shapps to resign, which is hardly surprising given Mann has a bit of a habit of telling people to resign, which therefore makes him a quite handy interviewee when his party is playing a more cautious game (the official Labour line is that there should be an inquiry). The Tories say he made the remarks ‘during the cut and thrust of an interview’ and that his ‘writing career’ ended shortly after him becoming an MP.
If voters are to take exception to a politician adopting another name while promising get rich quick business solutions, they probably already will have done given the stories about Shapps/Michael Green have been around a while. But what might be more of a problem is the suggestion that Shapps has been saying one thing on the radio in the past few weeks when something else is true.
One interesting spin-off from this could be that some of Shapps’ enemies in the Tory party start to brief against him again. They mounted a good campaign against the chairman at the last reshuffle, and may use this as an excuse to have another dig. Or they may feel that as the election is now so close, they should keep quiet.
And that’s the reason why Labour is so interested in this story: it’s not just any MP appearing to say one thing and do another, but one of the key figures in the Tory campaign. Distracting Shapps from the campaign, even without getting him removed from the job and causing serious disruption, is worth it for the Labour party.
UPDATE, 9.15am: Shapps has said that he 'over firmly' denied the allegations about his second job continuing when he was an MP. So that settles that then, or maybe not. At least, if nothing else, it adds a wonderful new phrase to our language, along with 'conscious uncoupling'.