Tag Archives: Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps accuses Wikipedia of being gamed by the Labour party

As Johann Hari found out to his cost, you can game Wikipedia for a long time, but in the end, if you violate their editorial process, they are remorselessly thorough in tracking you down.

Wikipedia allows almost anyone to edit pages about almost anything. But, to avoid conflicts of interest, you may not amend your own information, with the exception of very basic biographical detail (for example, if Wikipedia has your date of birth wrong).

Michael Green MPIn 2012, Wikipedia discovered that four usernames –,, Historyset and one that’s surfaced again recently, Hackneymarsh – had been linked to “computers in the constituency office of the Tory chairman”.

These four usernames had edited Wikipedia to amend certain references to Grant Shapps and his online alter egos Michael Green MP and Sebastian Fox:

references were deleted about his role in a 2007 byelection in west London where he impersonated Liberal Democrats online in an attempt to discredit his rivals – but forgot that he had logged on as himself.

The campaign was notable as Shapps was then a vice-chair of the Tory party responsible for campaigning. The Tory candidate came third when many felt he was favourite to win. However, the episode was airbrushed away on the online encyclopaedia.

In another series of changes after the 2010 election, Shapps’s entry removed references to the company HowToCorp, which the Guardian has exposed for breaching Google’s code of conduct, and to his online pseudonym Michael Green – with a comment posted that this mention of his “alter ego” was linked to a diary item that was an “unreliable source”.

Gone too were links to sites which revealed the Welwyn Hatfield MP paid back £3.79 during the expenses scandal, replaced by glowing references to a Daily Telegraph piece describing him as an “expenses saint”.

The revelations come after it emerged that Shapps had changed his entry in the online encyclopedia to correct the number of O-levels he obtained. He had also inserted testimony to his “influential” work on homelessness.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Corruption, Politics

PM works with parody

You couldn’t make it up: on the day the Tory / LibDem coalition are rolling out another round of welfare cuts, David Cameron announces he’s working with someone who doesn’t exist except on the Internet. (No, not Michael Green MP.)

David Cameron's tweet about working with IDS_MP
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Poverty

General Election, Corporal Reality

If you’re a Conservative/LibDem supporter, this must be like watching Titanic, except that Nick Clegg and David Cameron and Ed Miliband aren’t even as appealling as DiCaprio, Winslet, and Zane. The iceberg has hit, the ship is peeling apart and sinking, and yet you know the end of the movie is ages away and already seems to have been going on for far too long.

For the rest of us, though, things as much worse than simply enduring a long, long movie in the cinema as being on the Titanic was worse than taking part in the movie.

Paul Goodman, executive editor of ConservativeHome, offers four reasons why he does not believe the Tories can win a majority in 2015.

There is really just one reason, but it’s a shattering iceberg:

Austerity: The proclaimed conviction that if only enough people are unemployed or in work but struggling on a low income, plus essential services cut to the bone and cut again, then the economy will improve.

The belief that the economy must be destroyed in order to save it is essential to Tory thinking and was adopted by the LibDems with hardly a gulp. Labour can only lose if they adopt it too.
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Elections, Politics, Scottish Culture

One question, two question, three question, four

Today, David Cameron and Alex Salmond meet to decide the terms of the independence referendum. Naturally, they wouldn’t be meeting to “decide” if all the actual decisions hadn’t been worked out already by Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon and others, with their civil servants. Alex Salmond and David Cameron

The BBC’s “news” report on the meeting that will take place is a fair sample of the “it is expected” style of thing:

It is expected to allow for a vote in autumn 2014 with a single Yes/No question on Scotland leaving the UK.
The deal will also see 16- and 17-year-olds included in the ballot.
The UK government is expected to grant limited powers for the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal referendum, under a mechanism called Section 30.
The Electoral Commission will play a key role advising on the wording of the question and other issues such as campaign finance.
A possible second question on greater powers has been dropped, while the Scottish government looks to have secured its preferred date.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Elections, Scottish Politics

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

Whenever Labour, the Conservatives, the LibDems, or the SNP, talk about how the important things are to let big companies pay less tax and to crack down on benefit fraud, we can be quite sure they are telling a story which is aimed at getting tabloid support:

Tax evasion currently costs this country £25bn a year; tax avoidance – that is, large companies and wealthy individuals who “take advantage” of the system – cost us £70bn a year. In addition to this, £26bn is going uncollected, adding up to a staggering £121bn in total – or, to put it in context, three-quarters of the annual deficit. To put it in yet more context, the amount lost to disability fraud is estimated at £1bn – and this figure should be considered in the context of benefit underpayment, which consistently saves more than the fraud costs. This does not of course excuse fraud, but it does make a mockery of the coalition’s claims that abuse of the system is costing money that they will save by being “efficient” – another euphemism.

All of these parties at Westminster and Holyrood seem to think they can tell us what should matter to us.

I am undecided about how I’ll vote in 2014, and free for nothing, I’ll tell both Labour and the SNP how they could convince me to vote their way.

Tell me you’re going to build enough council houses that everyone who needs to rent one can have one. And keep building them so that as the stock diminishes by Right To Buy, it increases by new builds. You know this will save money – Housing Benefit has effectively become a subsidy for people who can afford to buy a place for the purpose of renting it out. Nice little earner for them. You know this will increase employment, decrease homelessness, improve quality of life hugely, even improve educational scores – children don’t tend to do well in school when they’re living in a bed-and-breakfast. Continue reading


Filed under Equality, Scottish Politics, Women

Michael Green is an MP. Tonbon is a village.

Tim Montgomerie does not write in defence of Michael Green’s spam spivvery: he ignores it, claiming that he is “not in a position to respond”.

Well, no doubt: ConHome is owned by Lord Ashcroft, and whatever Tim’s private feelings about this kind of Internet marketing as the manager of a blog who works hard to see it filled with interesting and original content, he really isn’t in a position to respond to the Tory Chairman’s use of “scraping and spinning” to generate content for profit.

Instead, Tim Montgomerie focusses exclusively on the anonymous self-editing of Wikipedia, where Shapps defenders are on slightly less shaky ground.

I’m not in a position to respond to every allegation that’s been made against the new Conservative Chairman but at the root of the controversy has been a long-standing attempt by (1) his political opponents to use Wikipedia to smear him and then (2) those same opponents then attack his attempts to counter those smears.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Internet, Politics

The Secret Seven

Secret Seven! The name evokes disdain or contempt among many readers who are otherwise ardent fans of Enid Blyton … for most of us the Secret Seven happens to be the least revered series in Blyton’s canon. Is this because the books were written for a younger set of readers? Could it be the smaller format? The perpetual scowl on the face of their highhanded leader, perhaps? –In Defence of the Secret Seven

Now the reshuffle’s over, the full Cabinet is thirty-two – sixteen a side, an unprecedented length for a Cabinet meeting as you can see from the table they use (screengrab off the news by Gaz Weetman):

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Elections, Politics

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
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Corruption, Elections, Politics

Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction

UK-wide, there are nearly 2 million people on council home waiting lists.

In Scotland, (in 2010-11) 55,227 households made homeless applications to their local council and local councils built about 583 dwellings.
(All of this data was got from the www.shelter.org.uk website, by the way.)

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said

“It is shocking … homeless people are dying much younger than the general population. Life on the streets is harsh and the stress of being homeless is clearly taking its toll. This report paints a bleak picture of the consequences homelessness has on people’s health and wellbeing. Ultimately, it shows that homelessness is killing people.”

There are about 272,401 homes rented from housing associations and about 323,138 council homes – but on 31st March 2011 there were 7,667 council homes standing empty. (According to Scottish House Condition survey data, there are currently 87,000 empty homes across Scotland – so in theory enough to resolve the homeless problem and then some. But there’s a council housing estate standing empty just down the road from me, and the reason people were moved out from there was it was becoming uninhabitable.)

As of 31st March 2011, there were 156,200 people on waiting lists for council houses, and 38,800 more people on transfer lists because their council house or locality has become unsafe or inappropriate. According to the 2001 census, there are 29,299 second and holiday homes in Scotland, about 1.3 per cent of the total housing stock.

According to the Scottish House Condition Survey of 2009, about 71,000 households are overcrowded in Scotland, and 65% of those households (46,000) are families with children. And 5,800 children in Scotland are living in substandard “temporary” accommodation this Christmas, and will most likely still be there at Easter. In England, there’s 70,000 children in that situation.

Bernardos reports:

Suitable accommodation is vital to a stable life that includes education, employment and healthy relationships. Young people are more vulnerable to poor health, involvement in crime and substance misuse, sexual exploitation, unemployment and dependency on benefits when they don’t have a safe place to live. Homeless families find themselves living transitory and uncertain lives. They never know when they will have to move, and basic essentials like a school place or doctor become major problems. Temporary accommodation offers children no stimulation or room to play, which can lead to depression or aggressive behaviour.

So what does the Westminster government consider to be the important issue about council houses and council tenants, this first morning of 2012?

Subletting, which is to be made illegal, and the possibility that some very wealthy people may still be living in council homes, never having taken advantage of the Right to Buy scheme or moved on.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said:

“For too long this country has turned a blind eye on the multi-billion pound problem of housing tenancy fraud and abuse. This year the coalition is determined to end that scandal. Why should someone on a six-figure income enjoy a fantastically subsidised council rent, whilst those in real need languish on the waiting list? And why is it so easy to get away with sub-letting your council house at market rent and simply pocketing up to £1,000 a week at taxpayers’ expense?”

Any “crackdown” on people receiving a subsidised benefit to make absolutely really very sure no one’s getting it who doesn’t deserve to, ensures that all deserving and honest recipients will have their lives made a misery. Grant Shapps talks about people on a six-figure income living in a council house. Even assuming that £100K+ income is based on two adults both working and earning over £50K a year each, even assuming they have four children, the households with that kind of income are in the top 8% of the population. (I got this from the Institute of Fiscal Studies calculator.) There may be some people in that 8% who are occupying a council house and who have never thought of buying it – but this is plainly not a huge problem. I don’t know what Grant Shapps’ wife earns, but with just his Ministerial salary, their family has a higher income than around 96% of the population. Nice for him. Not exactly a situation where you can find much empathy for people who are scrambling to afford each month’s rent.

What will become a huge problem for people who don’t have that kind of income is that the government want local authorities to investigate everybody’s income. This will mean that having a council house becomes a means-tested benefit. Not just when you’re trying to get to be placed in one, when you absolutely do have to show evidence that you’re in need, but when you’ve been living there for years or decades. Any means-tested benefit is always more costly and more complex to administer than a universal benefit, and universal benefits are better for society.

We need more homes being built in the UK. Building council homes is a win-win-win – it provides employment, which is good for the economy, a win: it moves people from temporary accommodation or homeless accommodation into a proper home, which is good for them, a win: and it gives those people more chance of getting a job or a good education which is good long-term for the economy, a win.

Renting a council house and subletting it is not, at the moment, an offense. My guess is that it’s not because most of the time, the sublet is temporary or to the person who stands to inherit the council tenancy anyway – a council tenant who’s going to be living elsewhere for a year or so, a older council tenant who’s moving into sheltered accommodation and whose son or daughter is moving into their council house. There may be some unscrupulous private landlords getting in there, who are doing it as a business, and if so, they would be rightly cracked down on as part of a drive against rogue landlords.

But that’s not what the Westminster government proposes. Claiming that this sort of thing costs two billion a year – based on a recent analysis that asserts 3% of the UK’s council houses may be illegally occupied – this scheme is having £19M diverted to it and they promise local authorities that any money they “save” by cracking down on council tenants is money that can be spent on new housing. But turning council houses into a means-tested benefit won’t save money, it’ll make council housing stock more expensive and complicated to administer. This is just another way to make the lives of the worse-off of a misery, and divert effort from supporting tenants to investigating them.

Shelter in England is calling on the Government to raise standards of rented accommodation and to properly protect tenants from rogue landlords – if you live in England sign the petition here.

Ben Reeve-Lewis, a tenancy relations officer in an inner London borough, says that Shelter’s campaign is misdirected, blaming local authorities for not prosecuting when the problem is “we are so overwhelmed by the number of weekly complaints that we cannot possibly countenance any more than basic dispute resolution.” He writes:

If the TRO decides that a criminal route is the appropriate solution there will have to be days gathering evidence, writing statements, delivering injunctions, interviewing perpetrators and arranging temporary accommodation for the tenant. The matter might reach the magistrates court in perhaps 18 months, with luck. Perhaps over two years, if the landlord opts for trial by jury. Once in court, judges will often give paltry fines. I once took a landlord to court who threatened a woman and her three children with a gun. It took me two and half years to get it before a judge who fined him £400 and refused the council’s costs in the case.

Most private landlords are decent enough people: I used to agent for one, I used to be one. In both instances, this was a “spare flat” that would have been standing empty due to the person who owned it moving away for a year or two: not a big business, just a means of covering the mortgage. I’ve rented from private landlords until I moved into my own home, shared flats with co-tenants. But the lack of council housing means unscrupulous landlords setting out to make millions out of the taxpayer can rent out accommodaton to people on housing benefit and make a massive profit – this is actually noted an advantage in an advice site for landlords:

An advantage of taking on housing benefit applicants and being up to date with the whole process is that landlords are quite often able to receive more than the market rent that would be payable if they were to let the property privately.

Ben Reeve-Lewis again:

The real problem is enforced local authority cuts, which mean that there aren’t enough resources to deal with the scale of the problem; a judicial system that often doesn’t take matters seriously; the government, for its refusal to regulate the private rented sector; and the police, who proclaim that landlord and tenant disputes are civil matters. In almost all cases I see where the tenant has called police to the incident the police have taken the landlord’s side. They often help the landlord to illegally evict the tenant.

You want to save billions, Mr Shapps? Build council houses. Invest some money in resources for local authorities to crack down on unscrupulous private landlords. Don’t make local authorities waste money on means-testing their council tenants.


Filed under Benefits, Epetitions, Equality, Housing, Poverty, Scottish Politics