The Spam Spiv

David Cameron has appointed Grant Shapps co-chairman of the Conservative Party in the latest Cabinet reshuffle.

The Tories have an image problem, you could say. George Osborne was booed tonight by 80,000 people at the Paralympic Games. The Conservatives are widely perceived as the party of arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of a hot pasty or a pint of milk, headed by men who went to Eton and were members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, the government for millionaires by millionaires, the party of tax cuts for the rich and high unemployment, workfare, and lowered wages for everyone else, the coalition of broken promises and NHS privatisation. Indeed, they have an image problem.

The Chairman of the Conservative party is a Cabinet Minister when the Tories are in government, and runs the “party machine”: oversees Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

Grant Shapps is the Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield and was Minister of State for Housing & Local Government. Until Monday’s reshuffle. At about one this morning Huffington Post

has learned from senior government sources that Sayeeda Warsi has lost her job as Tory co-chairman and is replaced by Grant Shapps.

We have also been told that Sayeeda Warsi has been offered another seat at the Cabinet table. The role on offer at the time of writing is rumoured to be as a junior Foreign Office minister with a seat at the Cabinet table, a position she has not yet accepted.

Sayeeda Warsi is “not one of us“. She argued last Friday:

“If you look at the demographics, at where we need to be at the next election, we need more people in the North voting for us, more of what they call here ‘blue collar’ workers and I call the white working class. We need more people from urban areas voting for us, more people who are not white and more women.”

But if the Tory party were to believe they need to listen to a woman, who is moreover not white and who comes from a working class, immigrant background, how they have to change to appeal to voters – this would turn the whole ethos of the Tory party upside down.

No, what David Cameron and George Osborne are apt to think they need isn’t some kind of radical policy change: they need a campaign to change their image. They need a marketing man. Grant Shapps has an alternate career: he’s “Michael Green“.

On The Daily Income website, Grant Shapps looks like this:

Michael Green on http://www.thedailyincome.com/michael-green

The photo is of a male model. Grant Shapps likes you to have a pretty face to associate with his business name. In his mundane career as a Tory MP, “Michael Green” looks like this:

Grant Shapps in the Guardian

Dr Éoin Clarke at the Green Benches notes in a series of graphs how as Minister for Housing, Grant Shapps would make an excellent “Internet guru”. He’s:

  • Presided over a massive decline in the building of affordable homes;
  • and a record high for the number of households on Council House waiting lists;
  • Homelessness is rising markedly;
  • Private rent is rising markedly;
  • More and more working families have had to rely on Housing Benefit to pay their rent.

Shapps has also run a campaign for a quieter A1(M) motorway through Welwyn Hatfield and made a number of fine speeches explaining how Labour’s tedious housing policies don’t work.

But this is the other side to Grant Shapps:

Grant is clearly a scholar of historic literature and 1919 appears to have been a particularly interesting year yielding not only a long lost manuscript on how to improve your golf swing but a lost book on interpreting your dreams.

Now of course only available online thanks to Grant’s sleuth-like discovery.

There’s some interesting things you find when you perform a Reverse DNS lookup on a website. (Looking at other sites hosted on the same server). A quick look around at what shares a server with Grant Shapps’ website http://www.shapps.com/ reveals the following. There’s a whole host of other domains that crop up too – but with holding pages and the bare bones of a CMS – perhaps some long lost dreams of Grant himself.

From the desk of Michael Green Grant Shapps, September 3, 2012:

The power to analyze your own dreams

Seriously, this could be one of the most useful skills you’ll ever develop. Even simple dreams are usually quite complex in their meaning. But imagine being able to crack the code and unlock the secrets hidden within your dreams.

On Monday, Labour MP Steve McCabe wrote a letter to the Permanent Secretary of the department for Communities and Local Government, Sir Bob Kerslake (both of Grant Shapps former ministerial roles are in that department) to point out:

there is no mention of any internet interests in the latest entry by “Shapps” in the Register of Members’ Interests, nor in the List of Ministers’ Interests.

“The Ministerial Code requires that Ministers act with integrity and openness. Are you satisfied that the use of aliases to promote a private business is in keeping with these principles?” Mr McCabe asked.

A 2005 review from an admirer:

Britain’s Michael Green (penname) rose from Internet unknown to major-player Guru in less than one year! That’s quite a feat. But he wasn’t a nobody to start with. He also runs a very successful offline printing business, and is a member of the British Parlaiment. The most amazing thing about Green’s rapid rise to Internet millions is that his work on his Internet business is very part time.

In fact, it’s said that Green only works one day a week on his Internet Marketing business, and that includes Web site development and producing all his products. He uses the rest of his time for his offline business and his Parliamentary position (the biggest reason he uses a penname)

Labour MP Tom Watson has written to the Information Commissioner:

I write in relation to the non-registration of a Data Controller for “How to Corp Limited” registered address: Elm Point, East End Way, Pinner, Middlesex. HA5 3BS Company No. 05399983

The company claims that it collects, processes and shares with partners and affiliates personal information:

http://www.howtocorp.com/legal/privacy.html

Could I urge you to investigate as a matter of urgency as you why this UK registered company has failed to enter a data controller registration.

But this isn’t the only problem. HowToCorp sells TrafficPaymaster. This is a software package which will save you the trouble of developing your own site and maximising traffic to it with good content by “spinning and scraping” content from other websites.

Using a service called AdSense, Google automatically pays the owners of websites and blogs in return for hosting advertisements. The TrafficPaymaster software allows users to take advantage of this, even though the sites they create may contain no original material.

The device is barred by Google, which has strict rules relating to unoriginal content.

Its AdSense policy says: “Sometimes we come across sites that are using software to generate automated content. These sites might look like normal news sites, but the information is completely plagiarised.

Scraping content and passing it off as one’s own is not only wrong, but it also happens to be a serious violation of our policies.”

Grant Shapps is a fan of site popups. From his 2005 admirer:

I don’t personally like the signup method, since it presents the mini-course first and the newsletter as an afterthought. In other words, it kind of tricks you into the newsletter in order to get the course. I’d rather see it presented as “sign up for my newsletter and receive this additional free gift” or as two separate things – but that’s my own ethical spin.

I also don’t like the pop-up method of shoving the sign-ups in your face.

Yes. Ouch! Michael Green is adamant that pop-ups are the way to go, and he practices what he preaches. Every time you click around from one place to another, there is an exit pop-up. This gets terribly annoying, and makes me avoid surfing around his site as much as possible. The products are great, but it’s too bad he has to ruin the shopping experience.

The right honourable chairman is also, it seems: Chuck Champion, author of howtopickupwomennow.com:

Perhaps Grant Shapps will inform us that the connection is ‘merely’ that howtopickupwomennow.com was one of the advertisers on the site savemysurgery.com, but the design, code and marketing and copy styles are identical to his* other ‘get results quickly without really trying’ scams, and his past behaviour (re: sock-puppetry denials) will count against him.

(*Yes, yes, yes. The paperwork shows the business is now in his wife’s name. But the advertising sales copy still live on many sites declares products to be the work of ‘Michael Green’, a “Member of Parliament”.)

Further, even if Grant Shapps can put a convincing amount of distance between himself and ‘Chuck Champion’, he has some serious questions to answer about site reputations he builds as an MP and then goes on to ‘cash in’ so it can be used as a patch on a two-bit ‘content’ farm where keyword-weighted links are sold for money. Shapps cannot pretend not to know what an online reputation is worth; too many of his products rely on teaching people how to falsify one.

Grant Shapps has also written a 34-page plug for his company, thinly disguised as a self-help tract on How To Bounce Back From Recession:

“Change Is Good,” he writes. “Really, it is!” It’s a chance to take up new hobbies – “weaving a shawl”, for example – or, yes, “to emulate your nemesis” and found a new business to rival that of your all-too-successful neighbour.

Green follows this with a series of vague suggestions about how best to run said business – “you must be cool and KEEP YOUR COOL!” – but is a bit light on specifics of what that business might entail.

But you should definitely pay HowToCorp lots of money to learn how to do e-marketing. From The Plashing Vole:

It’s a fascinating book – breezily (and illiterately) written with a healthy dose of distrust for ‘The Experts’ and a rock-solid faith that ‘There Is Daylight Ahead’, ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’, and that you should ‘Make Lemonade From Lemons’. It’s a mix of very familiar clichés, Alan Sugar-style bluster and Alcoholics Anonymous positive thinking (‘Decide To Recover’). Then it veers into a kind of Internet Scamming for Dummies.

Anyone who starts a blog is advised to start a Twitter account. (It took me a year, just about, to go from zero to a thousand Twitter followers. *waves at you all*)

Grant Shapps’s high point on Twitter before this blew up was 57050 followers. He flatlined for a while but his Twitter account is now back up to 57055.

He achieved this, he says, by following and unfollowing thousands of people each week. In the week to 16 July, he had followed and unfollowed more than 3,000 people – an average of nearly 450 per day.

However, in an email to subscribers entitled “How To Build a BIG List”, HowToCorp recommended people purchase TweetAdder, an automated tool for mass following and unfollowing people on Twitter. Until June, Shapp’s wife Belinda, the sole director and owner of HowToCorp, had not used Twitter regularly and wrote on her own website that she was a “self-confessed social media novice”.

But a spokesman for Shapps claimed when contacted by the Guardian: “He is quite simply not involved in this business.”

From Nye Bevan’s speech to the Manchester Labour rally 4th July 1948:

Referring to Mr. Churchill’s “set-the-people-free” speech, Mr. Bevan said that the result of the free-for-all preferred by Churchill would have been cinemas, mansions, hotels, and theatres going up, but no houses for the poor. “in 1945 and 1946,” he said, “we were attacked on our housing policy by every spiv in the country – for what is Toryism, except organized spivery? They wanted to let the spivs loose.” As a result of controls, the well-to-do had not been able to build houses, but ordinary men and women were moving into their own homes.

That’s not the way of the how-to Internet guru Grant Shapps.

But, maybe Grant Shapps is telling the truth, and Belinda Shapps taught herself how to become a twitter Black Hat in a few days and is now running HowToCorp entirely independently. Maybe.

But Nick S notes:

Perhaps howtocorp.com didn’t spam, and had a genuine relationship with everyone it emailed in 2004. On the other hand, over a hundred people didn’t think so, and reported the company to spam prevention services. I’ll leave it at that.

  • In 2004 SpamCop received over a hundred reports of spamming from howtocorp.com, a company run at the time by Grant Shapps
  • As a result, e-mails being sent from printhouse.co.uk (a company run at the time by Grant Shapps) were also blocked
  • Grant Shapps then tried to get SpamCop to reverse the block by claiming he had nothing to do with howtocorp.com
  • If howtocorp.com were genuinely sending unsolicited marketing e-mails they would have been committing an offence under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which only allows e-mail marketing to be sent where individuals have agreed to receive them

The spam spiv is now the chairman of the Conservative Party. “For what is Toryism, except organized spivery?”


Update, 7th September

Google has now blacklisted 19 of Michael Green MP’s websites.

Google has placed the websites on a blacklist of sites found guilty of breaching its rules after the Guardian exposed one of the sites selling software to help others breach copyright regulations. The network of websites, which includes howto-findhappiness.com and meaning-of-dreams.com, breached the rules by replicating content from other sites in a process known as “spinning and scraping” in order to jump higher up Google’s search rankings and increase advertising revenue.

The websites are in the name of Grant Shapps’ wife, sister, and mother. Since 2008, Grant Shapps is no longer named on any of the documents for the HowToCorp he co-founded in 2002: everything was transferred to his wife, his mother, or his sister. But Michael Green, Member of Parliament, went on being the face of HowToCorp.

How to increase your twitter-following using TweetAdder:

It appears that Shapps, at regular intervals, increases the number of people he follows by as many as 5,000 and if they do not follow him back, he unfollows them.

Analysis of his activity on Twitter shows regular, sudden surges in the number of people he follows succeeded a week later by a sudden decline. The research was conducted by Yatterbox, a political marketing consultancy firm specialising in monitoring all social media activity of politicians.

Update, 9th September

Well well.

Michael Green is also a Wikipedia editor. He appears to use mostly 217.155.38.72: on 10th July 2008, on 10th/11th November 2009, on 26th November 2009, and on 7th July 2010. He also may have used the IP address 90.196.154.2, between 18:24 and 18:59 on 3rd January 2009: six edits, four to Grant Shapps’s entry on Wikipedia, two to the entry for Grant Shapps’s constituency Welwyn Hatfield which add a couple of links from the Wikipedia page to the Shapps website.

The Observer has established that Shapps deleted a whole range of information from the online encyclopedia, including, curiously, a reference to his time at Watford grammar school for boys where the site had claimed he “obtained four O-levels including an A in CDT”. Without revealing his identity, in contravention of the Wikipedia code of conduct, Shapps justified his edits as the removal of politically slanted or unreferenced “info” and by claiming “content must be verifiable”.

A Conservative party spokesperson, whose views would not have been influenced at all by the fact that Grant Shapps is now co-chair of the Conservative party, said:

“Individuals are free to monitor the information that is available about them online – particularly when this information is purposefully vandalised by others. This is absolutely not in breach of Wikipedia rules.”

Update, 12th September

Tim Montgomerie’s defence of Michael Green as Tory Chairman on ConHome:

I see the Left’s attacks on Grant Shapps as a very deliberate attempt to try and discredit someone they see as a potentially formidable enemy. Grant’s performance in his own seat is little short of spectacular. In the last three elections he has consistently outperformed the national swing by large margins:

I’m concerned – like party members – that Grant must speak candidly to Cameron about the weaknesses of the party’s overall strategy but I’m convinced that he (and his new Con HQ team) will start to build a much more impressive election machine. Grant’s use of new media, single issue campaigning and LibDem-style pavement politics are what helped him become such an effective local candidate. I look forward to him bringing his experience to bear across the whole Tory operation and I understand why the Left are determined to damage him before he gets a chance to succeed.

Tim Montgomerie also argues that the only reason Grant Shapps edited his Wikipedia page was to remove inaccurate information. But in that case what are we to make of the information that Grant Shapps has apparently made no effort to remove about his alter Michael Green?

Believe it or not, Michael Green is a member of the UK Parliament, is a CEO of How To Corporation and is a successful online marketer.

Take note that despite his relative newness in the field of internet marketing, he has been touted as a guru when he began his first internet venture. Before his online endeavor, Michael Green already owns a successful printing company offline.

His wealth is such that he actually flies his very own personal plane and also lives in a fabulous mansion. Some find it hard to believe that regardless of Michael Green’s internet success, this online marketing guru only allots a day per week to work on his internet ventures. The other days of the week are reportedly spent by him on his offline businesses as well as to fulfill his functions as a member of the British parliament.

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Filed under Corruption, Elections, Politics

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