Next Tory Leader run-offs. Tenth: Grant Shapps.

12 Jul

Run-off scores –

Grant Shapps: 17 per cent

Penny Mordaunt: 68 per cent.

Don’t know: 15 per cent.

(936 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 18 per cent.

Kemi Badenoch: 67 per cent.

Don’t know: 15 per cent.

(937 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 21 per cent.

Liz Truss: 60 per cent.

Don’t know: 19 per cent.

(936 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 23 per cent

Nadhim Zahawi: 49 per cent

Don’t know: 29 per cent

(934 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 24 per cent

Sajid Javid: 49 per cent

Don’t know: 27 per cent

(939 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 24 per cent.

Suella Braverman: 56 per cent.

Don’t know: 19 per cent.

(941 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 28 per cent.

Rishi Sunak: 45 per cent.

Don’t know: 27 per cent.

(934 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 32 per cent.

Tom Tugendhat: 38 per cent.

Don’t know: 30 per cent.

(935 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 33 per cent

Priti Patel: 38 per cent

Don’t know: 28 per cent

(933 votes cast)

Grant Shapps: 42 per cent.

Jeremy Hunt: 31 per cent.

Don’t know: 28 per cent.

(937 votes cast.)

Shapps has got his campaign off the ground a bit late, and has made little impact on our panel as yet.

The post Next Tory Leader run-offs. Tenth: Grant Shapps. appeared first on Conservative Home.

Profile: Grant Shapps, the blandly implausible Cabinet star who is taking on the RMT

24 Jun

When Grant Shapps was 13 he declared: “My name is Grant, I’m from Pinner, and my ambition is to be a Conservative Cabinet minister.”

Simon Johnson, now Chair of the Rugby Football League, heard him say this when they were both in BBYO, the Jewish youth organisation, and remarks: “At the height of Thatcherism in the 1980s that was a very brave thing for him to say – it exposed him to a lot of mickey-taking.”

Shapps is now a Conservative Cabinet minister. As Secretary of State for Transport, he is in the front line of the rail dispute, but well before that he was one of the few people trusted by Downing Street to put the Government’s case on the morning media round.

He continues to be exposed to a lot of mickey-taking, but mingled with that is a note of respect. As one former minister remarked this week to ConHome:

“In a normal Cabinet of quality he would be a minor chord. But in this Cabinet, where mediocrity is laced with incompetence, he’s a bit of a star.”

A serving minister went further:

“I love Grant. Pre-Christmas, when there was the possibility of a lockdown, he was completely pivotal in Cabinet in stopping it. His intervention was crucial.”

Another influential Conservative, who has seen a lot of Shapps over the years, said of him:

“I can’t help but like him, even though I wouldn’t trust him. He’s probably the Government’s best communicator in terms of the Cabinet. He exudes confidence. He’s absolutely right about the rail strike – he’s brilliant. He reminds me a little bit of Jeffrey Archer.”

Shapps is an odd mixture of ambition, boldness, implausibility, realism and professionalism. All front-rank politicians need the self-belief to recover from, or better still shrug off, what may seem to spectators like a knockout blow.

The Prime Minister possesses that quality, and so, in a different register, does Shapps. When Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT, blamed the rail strike on “Old Etonians speaking Latin and Greek”, the jibe did not land on Shapps, educated at Watford Grammar School (by then already a comprehensive), Cassio College and Manchester Polytechnic, and as a teenager more interested in designing computer games and setting up small businesses than in academic work.

Class war cannot work against the classless Shapps. “He’s got much better on the media,” a close observer remarks. “He’s one of the few who talks normally.”

One might say Shapps talks blandly. He is not much given to coining memorable phrases. He makes his case in a reasonable, workaday tone of voice, which offers his opponents no weak point against which to counter-attack.

And because he has been Transport Secretary since July 2019, so for almost three years, he has had time to work out how to continue the modernisation of the railways, which began many years before he came on the scene.

ConHome revealed in November 2020 how Shapps proposed to seize the opportunity offered by the pandemic to give Britain world-class rail.

The vast sums of public money which were needed to keep the trains running through the emergency meant this was a moment of central control, when it became possible, as well as morally right, to sweep away obsolete working practices.

That argument has only become stronger since. As Shapps himself put it in a speech delivered on Thursday of last week:

“These strikes are not only a bid to derail reforms that are critical to the network’s future and designed to inflict damage at the worst possible time, they are also an incredible act of self-harm by the union leadership.

“Make no mistake, unlike the past 25 years, when rising passenger demand, year after year, was taken for granted by the industry, today the railway is in a fight.

“It’s not only competing against other forms of public and private transport, it’s in a battle with Zoom, Teams and remote working. In case the unions haven’t noticed, the world has changed.

“Many commuters, who three years ago had no alternative to taking the train, today have the option of not travelling at all. Wave them goodbye and it will endanger the jobs of thousands of rail workers.

“The last thing the railway should be doing right now is alienating passengers and freight customers with a long and damaging strike.”

The strike is about who wields the central power which has been reestablished over the railway. Lynch and his colleagues in the RMT wish to demonstrate they can bring the network to a halt, and that they will continue to be able to do so.

The union barons used to be a power in the land, a great estate of the realm, because they could shut things down. In the 1970s, neither a Conservative Government, led by Edward Heath, nor a Labour one, led by James Callaghan, could work out how to regain the initiative.

In the 2020s, the Government would have to be extraordinarily incompetent – never, admittedly, a possibility which can be excluded – for things to play out as badly as they did in the 1970s.

Shapps was born in 1968, so remembers the 1970s. He not only announced in the early 1980s that he wished to be a Conservative minister, but at that time showed precocious gifts as a campaigner by getting himself elected National President of the Jewish youth organisation to which he belonged.

In an interview given to The Jewish Chronicle in September 2010, Shapps said:

“I feel totally Jewish; I am totally Jewish. I don’t eat pork, we only buy kosher meat and we don’t mix meat and milk. I like being Jewish and I married a Jewish girl. It’s like a way of life and it’s good to be able to instil some of that sense of being in your kids.

“All of that makes me seem as though I am quite observant but actually the flipside of this is I don’t know if there is a God or not. But one thing I am absolutely certain of is that God wouldn’t care if you were Jewish or Christian or Muslim.”

Although there are many politicians who, while nominally Christian, Muslim or Jewish, don’t know if there is a God, few actually say this.

Shapps is not merely undogmatic on his own behalf: he says God, if He exists, would be undogmatic too.

As a politician, Shapps does not preach doctrine, but is instead keenly interested in practice. “His approach has been generally sensible in a department that isn’t sensible,” as one Tory transport expert put it.

A railway specialist was less complimentary: he feared that Great British Rail, set up by Shapps, will become “another vast government bureaucracy that no one will be able to manage”.

But most observers think Shapps has done quite well at leading a department which is extraordinarily difficult to lead. One may compare and contrast him with Gavin Williamson.

Both men were desperate to get back into the Cabinet, both were astute enough to realise that Johnson was the horse to back in 2019, but Williamson, rewarded with the post of Education Secretary, soon found himself in serious difficulties, which Shapps, rewarded with Transport, has not.

The road to the fulfilment of his boyhood ambition has been a long one, strewn with obstacles, including a car accident in America in which he almost lost his life, and a bout of cancer which could also have proved fatal.

His recreation, when he can find time, is to fly his own Piper plane, made in 1985. His department has to deal with the airline industry, formidable at lobbying though not always good at hiring enough staff or treating them properly.

Shapps, son of a graphic designer, as a young man set up a printing business, but also sought to become an MP. He failed first in 1997, when he stood in North Southwark and Bermondsey, coming a distant third, and next in 2001, when he lost by 1,196 votes in Welwyn Hatfield.

In 2005, he won Welwyn Hatfield by 5.946 votes, and threw his support behind David Cameron, whose nomination papers he signed.

Under Cameron, steady promotion followed: Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party in 2005, shadow Housing Minister in 2007, Minister of State for Housing and Local Government in 2010, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party in 2012.

But the other Chairman was Lord Feldman, who when profiled on ConHome was described as “the more important” of the two, with much closer ties to Cameron.

There are eight references to Feldman in David Cameron’s memoir, For The Record, and only two to Shapps, one of which reads, in its entirety:

“Grant Shapps became Chairman. He was loyal, energetic, and really wanted it.”

Shapps was sometimes known to the Cameroons as von Schnapps, a nickname which perhaps suggests he was not taken with complete seriousness. He made valiant and for a time successful attempts to get Conservative activists bussed to wherever they were most needed.

But after the general election victory of 2015, he was demoted to the post of Minister of State for International Development, no longer attending Cabinet, and in November of that year he stood down because of  grave bullying allegations which had been made about Team2015, the scheme to move young activists around.

There had also been unwelcome publicity about Shapps’s business activities, touched on in this recent piece for ConHome by William Atkinson, including the use of the pseudonym Michael Green and the promotion of a get-rich-quick scheme which seemed unlikely to make anyone better off.

In October 2017, Shapps  said the Conservative Party could not “bury its head in the sand”, and called for the resignation of the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

The plot was a flop and she did not resign until the summer of 2019, when Shapps backed Johnson to succeed her, and became celebrated for the accuracy of the spreadsheets which he prepared for the Johnson campaign.

“He successfully adumbrated the weaknesses and venality of his colleagues,” as one Johnson supporter put it. Shapps had again proved his usefulness, and made sure everyone knew it.

He also makes sure everyone knows that Mick Jones, lead guitarist of The Clash, is his cousin.

Johnson is a fan of The Clash, and especially of Joe Strummer, the band’s lead vocalist. In November 2005, when Johnson was asked by Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs for “record number seven”, he replied:

“Right. Ah, this is fantastic. It is The Clash, “Pressure Drop”, and the great thing about The Clash, of course, was apart from anything else, Joe Strummer was towards the end an avid Telegraph reader and it was the highest moment in my journalistic career when Joe Strummer actually sent me a letter saying how much he’d admired a column I’d written, about hunting funnily enough, and he was a fantastic man, a great hero of mine, a good poet as well as a fantastic rock musician.”

The Prime Minister will be excited to have appointed a Transport Secretary whose cousin performed with Strummer. Here is not the least of Shapps’s implausibilities.

The post Profile: Grant Shapps, the blandly implausible Cabinet star who is taking on the RMT first appeared on Conservative Home.

What can and should the Government do about the unions?

22 Jun

Before last week, who had heard of Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and the new bogeyman of commuters everywhere? Who has heard of Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, the joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, or Mark Sewotka, the General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union? All are threatening to strike this summer.

You may remember Len McCluskey, the former General Secretary of Unite, for his closeness to Jeremy Corbyn. Or you may know Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, for her performance during the big BBC Brexit debate back in 2016. But asides from their predilection for posturing or trashing Tories as TV talking heads, neither pricks the consciousness of most of us particularly often.

Despite Kate Bush being at number one, this is not the seventies or the eighties. Trade union leaders do not habitually play a huge part in our national political debate, or in setting government policy. The Red Robbos or Arthur Scargills of the twenty-first century are not seen lecturing gnarled-faced and donkey-jacketed men on the evening news. The modern equivalents of Jack Jones and Len Murray are not often in Number 10 for beer and sandwiches.

Working out why is not hard. According to the annual Statistical Bulletin for Trade Union Membership, the proportion of UK workers in a trade union was just 23.1 percent last year – the lowest number on record. It was over half when Margaret Thatcher came to power. 60 percent of union members are in the public sector, and only 12.8 in the private. Even then, membership is largely in formerly nationalised industries like water, gas, or the Royal Mail.

Since the trade unions had their wings clipped by Mrs Thatcher’s reforms (largely through giving more power to their own members), and since the denationalisation of most major industries has ended the situation where unions were continually negotiating with the Government, their power and influence has faded. Union membership has ceased to be attractive outside of the public sector. Negligible inflation has also suppressed wage demands.

Then Covid, lockdowns, supply-chain bottlenecks, and the war in Ukraine happened – and the Bank of England, our government, and most of the commentariat were caught napping. Now, as inflation surges past 9 percent (well done, Andrew Bailey), dealing with union wage demands has returned to the centre stage of our politics. And not only because everyone in Westminster is frustrated about having to work at home for a day or two.

Whilst the Government may have been somewhat surprised by this ‘Summer of Discontent’, the Conservative Party’s muscle memory has ensured it has leapt into action. The Transport Secretary has sworn to stay out of negotiations between the rail companies and the RMT. Instead, the Government has focused on making the easy political points that leading trade unionists are Marxists, that the Labour party is clueless, and that a wage-price spiral would not be much fun.

Of course, on all these it is right – and especially later. As Simon Clark, the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, has told Sky News, if we don’t want the inflation problem “to either intensify or prolong itself, then we need to be sensible around pay awards.” Inflation is a consequence of energy price spikes, post-Covid disruption, and governmental money-printing. That suggests it is transient.

But giving in to demands for pay rises of 9 percent or more will bake in the expectation of inflation as it did in the seventies, and the problem of inflation will go from being transient to permanent. So the Government needs to hold the line on pay in the short term. But it also needs a plan for dealing with the unions in the long-term. Doing a Mrs Thatcher impression may have been good for Liz Truss’ leadership prospects. But it is not a political strategy.

When Mrs Thatcher took the fight to the unions, it was after a decade of governmental failure to rein in their immunities and obstreperousness. In Place of Strife, the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, the Social Contract – all had to be tried, and either be broken by the unions or evaporate in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ before voters were willing to accept that something difficult must be done.

The Government has no patience for such long-term strategy – it lives day-to-day and headline-by-headline. Nevertheless, it has obvious policy options to pursue if it wants to harness this outburst of union disagreeableness to its advantage. Shapps committed, back in 2019, to introducing legislation to guarantee minimum levels of service during rail strikes. A similar pledge was made during and after the 2015 election.

Yet nothing has happened. Back then, one supposes it was meant to please Tory activists – but now the case for it has been made. Introducing such a measure would bring England into line, as the IEA’s Len Shackleton has pointed out, with the notoriously anti-worker governments of, erm, Belgium, France, and Italy. Such a measure would reduce disruption of this week’s type in future – and would reduce calls for a quick but costly settlement for a quiet life.

The Government is also right to float the idea of allowing rail companies to use agency workers. A world city like London should not be partially shutdown due to the intransigence of a small number of railway workers – especially as driving the Tube is not overly difficult, and those who do are very well renumerated. And whilst we wait for driverless trains to finally be forced in, agency staff are the next best thing.

There is the slight concern that any action by the Government against the unions looks like over-kill, a reflex response to the return of an old Tory bugbear. Making the case for pay restraint is also more difficult whilst the triple lock ensures pensioners see an uprating of their income in line with inflation – on top of the National Insurance-funded asset-protection scheme the Government blessed them with last year.

But we must also remember that the unions are, in many parts, still Harold Wilson’s “tightly-knit group of politically motivated men” – or, as Dominic Sandbrook put it last week, “the worst of Britain”. Germany bans civil servants, lecturers, and some teachers from striking. Our government can go just as far. Though as my girlfriend is a teacher, and I’d rather like to keep her on side, it could perhaps still consider a pay rise for the latter.

The post What can and should the Government do about the unions? first appeared on Conservative Home.

WATCH: Shapps says that union leaders are leading railway workers “down a cul-de-sac”

19 Jun

The post WATCH: Shapps says that union leaders are leading railway workers “down a cul-de-sac” first appeared on Conservative Home.

WATCH: Shapps on “reshaping” and “modernising” the railway workforce

19 Jun

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>SR: &#39;Reshaping the workforce means some job cuts, right?&#39;<a href=”https://twitter.com/grantshapps?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@GrantShapps</a>: &quot;We need to reshape the railway around the needs of the railway today&quot;.<br><br>SR: &#39;Does that mean job cuts?&#39;<br><br>Grant Shapps dodges question on job cuts in the rail industry.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ridge?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Ridge</a> <a href=”https://t.co/GhEVgl1st3″>https://t.co/GhEVgl1st3</a> <a href=”https://t.co/KuY5SZ8CEq”>pic.twitter.com/KuY5SZ8CEq</a></p>&mdash; Sophy Ridge on Sunday &amp; The Take (@RidgeOnSunday) <a href=”https://twitter.com/RidgeOnSunday/status/1538432654248394757?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>June 19, 2022</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

The post WATCH: Shapps on “reshaping” and “modernising” the railway workforce first appeared on Conservative Home.

Steve Barclay: My fellow Conservatives face a choice. Look outwards, and follow Johnson. Or look inwards – and tear ourselves apart.

6 Jun

Steve Barclay is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chief of Staff at Ten Downing Street.

Over the weekend, the whole country came together to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 7

years of selfless service.

I very much enjoyed the special events put on to celebrate this remarkable occasion, and I know that my parliamentary colleagues – and readers of ConservativeHome – were participating in celebrations in communities across the country.

As we return to Westminster today, the Conservative parliamentary party faces a choice: we can focus on delivering the policies needed to meet the challenges faced by those communities – and of people across the whole United Kingdom.

Or we can choose to waste time and energy looking backwards and inwards, talking to ourselves about ourselves.

In my view, politics is always about the future – because the people who elect us are focused on the challenges and opportunities ahead, not the debates of yesterday.

That is why the next general election will be decided on who offers the best vision for the future of the United Kingdom, not on prior mistakes or successes.

Our remarkable vaccine rollout – the fastest in Europe – and our unprecedented economic support during Covid helped save lives and livelihoods. But that won’t form the basic choice in front of voters next time.

Equally, nor will the mistakes – for example, the contents of the Sue Gray report.

We have lost half of this Parliament to Covid. That is not the fault of the Prime Minister or of Conservative MPs – and our constituents understand that. But it will be our fault entirely if we choose to waste the remaining half of the parliament on distractions over leadership.

The country faces many pressing challenges right now – so we must focus on what matters to the livelihoods of constituents rather than the obsessions of those on social media. My colleagues understand from their constituency work and surgeries just how much the cost of living situation is impacting hardworking people. Pressure on energy bills and food prices is causing real stress and anxiety across the country – and this will continue into the winter.

It is crucial that we show people we are delivering on the change they voted for in 2019.

If we continually divert our direction as a Conservative Party – and by extension the government and the country – into a protracted leadership debate, we will be sending out the opposite message.

Our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has shown in his leadership on Ukraine, in getting Brexit done, in protecting jobs from the pandemic and resisting the repeated calls for a lockdown in the summer, that he is the right person to make the bold calls needed to respond to the economic challenge we now face. He is dedicated to unlocking talent across the UK and levelling up, and to delivering on our promises to the people who elected us. That is at the heart of the Cabinet’s agenda.

Rishi Sunak is fast tracking reforms to enable our pension funds and insurance firms to unlock billions in capital for investment in places that have felt ignored in the past. These are the big-ticket changes Brexit offers to communities like my own, who voted strongly to leave.

Priti Patel is ahead of our target to recruit 20,000 police offices to make our streets safer, and Sajid Javid is rolling out community diagnostic centres around the country to help clear the Covid backlogs.

Grant Shapps has set out reforms to help rail commuters who have to pay higher fares due to out-of-date trade union working practices. Jacob Rees-Mogg is reducing the size of Whitehall, ensuring we deliver more efficiently for everyone.

In all this, we are saying to people: we will support you. To get the skills you need. To get the investment your area needs. To ensure your local streets are safer and your health is supported.

And later this week, the Prime Minister will set out plans to expand home ownership to Generation Rent – building on our core Conservative belief that people aspire to own their own homes.

He and I are instinctive tax cutters: we know the tax burden as a result of Covid  is high and we know this would be the most benefit to the majority of our constituents. Money left in people’s pockets helps them plan and grows the economy.

The Parliamentary majority we hold is incredibly rare. To waste time now on continued internal factionalisaton would be indefensible to many of our party members – given how hard they worked to secure that majority.

I first stood for Parliament in 1997, when John Major had been hamstrung with a single figure majority. We then endured 13 years of Blair and Brown with no majority, before the frustrating constraints of coalition. We must not squander the enormous opportunity we have with our majority now – to make real Conservative change and deliver across the country.

The Queen’s Speech set out the government’s top priorities for the year ahead: growing the economy to address the cost of living, making our streets safer, funding the NHS to clear Covid backlogs, and providing the leadership needed in challenging times.

The problems we face aren’t easy to solve. Democracies around the world are all currently facing similar challenges. But under Boris Johnson’s leadership, our plan for jobs shows how we are navigated through these global challenges. To disrupt that progress now would be inexcusable to many who lent their vote to us for the first time at the last general election, and who want to see our Prime Minister deliver the changes promised for their communities.

Our Cabinet League Table. Wallace top again, Patel up, Johnson down – and Sunak in the red

25 Apr
  • This is Ben Wallace’s third table-topping month (with 85 points his rating has barely moved), and a pattern is beginning to form below him – as Liz Truss, Nadhim Zahawi and Anne-Marie Trevelyan come in variously at second, third and fourth (with scores in the mid to low sixties).  Both the first of those and now the second are being written up as potential leadership candidates.
  • Priti Patel was bottom of the table last month on -17 points, having languished at the lower end of it for some time – not least because of the small boats issue.  The Government now has a policy to deal with it, and her rating consequently jumps to 31 points, near the middle of the table.
  • Boris Johnson was in the same zone last month, having been in negative ratings for the previous three, and is now back down again – third from bottom.  Ukraine will have pushed him up last month; partygate will have pulled him down this. But the driver of his low scores is that the Government is too left-wing, at least in the view of many activists.
  • Rishi Sunak plunged last month to third from bottom in the wake of the Spring Statement (on plus eight points).  He drops to last place this month, coming in at minus five points, in the wake of the furore about his wife’s tax affairs and former non-dom status.  It is perhaps surprising that his fall isn’t larger; it may even be that the worst is behind him – in this table at least.

Del Boy Shapps’ videos are vulgar, tasteless, bizarre – and brilliant.

20 Apr

Unfortunately for him, Grant Shapps is indelibly associated for me with an ex-girlfriend. Being a resident of Welwyn Garden City, and of stoutly left-wing views, she had conceived a burning distaste for her local MP. Personally, since Shapps and I share the honour of having grown up in Croxley Green, I have more time for the man – and especially so that he is now becoming a minor internet sensation.

Over the last few months, Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has begun to twin announcements from his department with a series of slightly bizarre YouTube video. One features him conversing with Michael Portillo on a station platform. Another has him meeting a Tik-Tok personality whilst discussing railway announcements. A third has him with Quentin Wilson, long ago of Top Gear, engaged in a Wild-West style shoot out with electric vehicle chargers in a Tesco car park.

Whilst these have a faint air of Alan Partridge at his most desperate, Shapps’ most recent entry tops all his previous efforts. Pictured in front of a green screen, he announces the Government’s new Great British Rail Sale through a series of costume changes. A warm coat for Edinburgh; shades and a crab for Cornwall; a rucksack for the Lake District. This culminates with the technology packing up, and Shapps informing us from a station platform that it is time to stop living virtually – and go and explore the UK by rail.

Again, I’m not sure if the minute-long sequence is a conscious callback to Wayne’s World or not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon find Shapps in a car with Mike Myers, belting out ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ whilst advertising a campaign to fill-in potholes. Certainly, this is a memorable way to get across the message that various ticket prices have been cut for the next two months. But before he starts mimicking Mr Mercury, there is a serious point to address about Shapps’ recent performances.

They are, frankly, vulgar. The production values are consciously cheesy, and Shapps’ delivery has the clipped and uncomfortable edge of a Dad trying to get down-wid-da-kidz. It is hardly becoming of a Cabinet minister to be making a goon of themselves on YouTube in order to flog cheap railway tickets. Would Peel, Disraeli, or Salisbury have been caught pratting around playing cowboys and Indians in a supermarket car park?

Well, perhaps those Victorian titans wouldn’t have. But Shapps deserves more credit than derision for his online announcements. If Enoch Powell could be caught on a pogo stick as Minister for Health, and Edward Heath could be found on a skateboard as Leader of the Opposition, then a Tory statesman of Shapps’ stature can be allowed to hold a crab on the internet. Take it as the 21st century version of the eye-catching photo op.

Shapps is a businessman by trade. A few of his efforts have received their fair share of gentle mockery, including his use of the pseudonym Michael Green to flog customers a “get-rich-quick scheme” involving eBooks. In that sense, he reminds me of another great business personality with a flair for self-promotion – a certain Derek Trotter. If it is the Alan Partridge side of Shapps the comes through in the videos, all the better – a minister looking a prat is much more watchable than a minister being dull.

But like Del Boy, Shapps’ ministerial career has had its ups and downs, with resignations, demotions, and an occasionally turbulent time as the Party’s co-chair. Yet since becoming Transport Secretary in 2019, Shapps has been one of the Government’s quiet star performers. He has presided over the effective nationalisation of the Northern Trains franchise, the creation of Great British Railways, and the launch of the Integrated Rail Plan for northern England – and Covid travel restrictions.

In short, this amateur pilot has been a steady captain of his department through turbulent times without receiving too much attention. Even if it does involve him looking a bit silly online, it is appropriate that these videos have given him a brief and entertaining chance to enjoy the spotlight. As Peckham’s finest liked to put it – he who dares, wins.

And so I now fully expect Shapps to swap a train for a yellow Reliant Robin in his next video.

Our Cabinet League Table. Sunak plunges to third from bottom.

4 Apr
  • Last September, I reported that Dominic Raab had plummeted third from top in July to fourth from bottom in our Cabinet League Table.  Today, he is back to sixth from top, having worked his way out of the relegation zone.
  • I write this to offer comfort to enthusiasts for Rishi Sunak, who was eleventh last month, but now finds himself plunged to third from bottom, in the wake of a Spring Statement with which the majority of our panel is dissatisfied.
  • Having managed the table for a long time, I know that what goes down can come up again – and vice-versa.  Our respondents are very knowing, and many use the table as a form of running commentary rather than a means of permanent judgement.
  • At the top, the changes are very marginal, with Steve Barclay’s fall of nine points from 64 to 55, and drop from second to fifth, being the largest movement in the top ten – and it’s not a very large one in the great scheme of events.
  • At the bottom, Priti Patel falls into negative ratings after a month’s bad headlines over Ukrainian refugees.  The Home Office is so permanently troubled that it’s hard to see her moving up towards the comfort of mid-table in the near future.
  • Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is out of negative ratings, where he had been for three months running, and into the middle of the table.  This is at once an impressive recovery from where he was and a lacklustre rating given his position as Prime Minister.
  • Johnson will undoubtedly have gained from his handling of the Ukraine, which received an overwhelming thumbs up from our panel.  Ninety-three per cent took a positive view of it and 58 per cent a negative one of Sunak’s Spring Statement.