This article is more than 1 year old

Who is Grant Shapps?

James Coe has everything you need to know about the seventh Secretary of State at BEIS in six years.
This article is more than 1 year old

James Coe is Associate Editor for research and innovation at Wonkhe, and a partner at Counterculture

In an interview with the BBC about, of all things, his personal fashion concept, the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said:

I would say that I prefer to be comfortable than worry about being hugely fashionable

Yes, it’s internet marketer Michael Green, alias Grant Shapps, appearing in his latest branding exercise as Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy.

Shapps is a genuinely fascinating character. His first entry into parliamentary politics was in the 1997 election where he stood against Simon Hughes in North Southwark and Bermondsey. After unsuccessfully contesting Welwyn Hatfield in 2001 he won the seat in 2005 and has been the MP for the area ever since.

Absent from his website is the time when, aged only 20, he stood for the council seat of Old Moat promising to “Put the new into Old Moat.” By his own admission not the catchiest slogan of all time.

Who is Michael Green?

Shapps studied at Cassio College Watford and then Manchester Metropolitan University where he received a HND in Business and Finance. He then founded a printing company in 1990 before kicking off some more complex business dealings.

Under the pseudonym Michael Green, Shapps ran a marketing company which would, allegedly, help people become rich. Shapps initially maintained that he had ceased to be Michael Green after becoming an MP. This turned out not to be true after an audio recording obtained by The Guardian, featured Shapps discussing this business one year after being elected as an MP.

Shapps, at the time, said he was mistaken in saying the work had stopped earlier than it did.

What you hear is not a test

Shapps is cousin to Mick Jones who was the lead guitarist of The Clash. It’s hard to imagine what Shapps and Jones might talk about over dinner, but if it’s not his time as Home Secretary, it could be Brand New Cadillac (Transport Secretary 2019-22), London Calling (Minister for International Development 2012-15), or Lost in the Supermarket (Minister for Housing and Local Government 2010-12). Shapps was also Conservative Party Chairman from 2012-15 but there isn’t a Clash song which illustrates this neatly.

In a 2012 interview with the Guardian Shapps tells us his favourite karaoke song is Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang. To complete the musical circle Rapper’s Delight was sampled by Big Audio Dynamite in their relatively popular 1991 release Rush. Big Audio Dynamite was formed by Shapps’ cousin Mick Jones and later joined by Shapps’ brother Andre.

An aviator

Grant Shapps recovered from cancer in his early life, he entered a coma after a car accident in America, he was the President of Jewish youth organisation BBYO, he is a father to three children including a set of twins, and in his spare time, he is a keen aviation enthusiast. In the most literal sense, he is a man of multitudes.

Shapps also resigned as Minister for International Development following the culmination of the bullying and abuse scandal which engulfed the youth wing of the Conservative Party. While he maintains he was not aware of the nature of allegations he did acknowledge that responsibility ultimately rested with him as the person who signed off personnel decisions. Seven years later he would stand to be leader of the Conservative Party.

The job ahead

To the future. Shapps inherits a department which has had six secretaries of state in six years. Amidst the wider uncertainties wrought by Brexit, Covid, and now the cost of living crisis, it is not an easy time to inherit this portfolio. As well as responsibility for maintaining relationships with business, Shapps is responsible for Horizon Europe, ARIA, the Innovation Strategy, the R&D People and Culture Strategy, the Office for AI, and membership of the European Space Agency.

Shapp’s immediate priority will be to protect the research funding settlement secured in the latest spending review and confirmed by Nus Ghani in her recent Select Committee appearance. A cut to research funding would not only be a grave challenge to the whole science ecosystem but an impediment to any ambitions of economic growth.

For the sake of the whole science community and the country we should hope Shapps succeeds in resolving the challenge of Horizon association, growing ARIA from its embryonic state, delivering on fewer and better funded priorities, and addressing the deep inequalities within research. The first test will be Chancellor Hunt’s Autumn budget. If momentum is lost here it will be Train in Vain for the former Transport Minister.

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