13:33 Monday 16th March 2015
BBC Radio 4
MARTHA KEARNEY: The Conservative Party Chairman has admitted today that in his own words he “screwed up” over his past business activities. Grants Shapps has faced criticism in the past for using the pseudonym Michael Green as part of his marketing company, which offered advice on how to make money. Michael Green was supposedly a successful businessman. Grant Shapps told LBC three weeks ago this is all before he became an MP.
GRANT SHAPPS: I thought the discussion here was second jobs whilst people are MPs. So to be absolutely clear, I don’t have a second job, and have never had a second job whilst being an MP. End of story.
MARTHA KEARNEY: But today’s Guardian has released a recording of Grant Shapps described as having been made in 2006, in which he is posing as Michael Green. This is part of the recording.
GRANT SHAPPS: I think we’re suggesting if people are listening to this pretty currently, and we’re in the Summer of 2006 whilst we’re recording, a great timescale would be to use the profit diary techniques to make a ton of cash by Christmas.
MARTHA KEARNEY: So the business How To Corp. was still running in the year after he became an MP. This confusion has emerged in other public comments too. When I interviewed Grant Shapps two years ago, he offered this explanation.
GRANT SHAPPS: Just so your readers are clear, before I went into politics I used to run a printing company and I also set up a publishing company, and I think sensibly just to keep it separate from politics, I published under a brand name, under a pen name, like any ..
MARTHA KEARNEY: Michael Green.
GRANT SHAPPS: Michael Green.
MARTHA KEARNEY: So there Grant Shapps was saying that the pseudonym was used before he went into politics. But later in the same interview ..
GRANT SHAPPS: Just to be clear that the business is actually closed. I haven’t been involved with it for nearly four and a half years. And the business is closed so it’s a really very old, very very old story.
MARTHA KEARNEY: So there Grant Shapps admits that the business was still running in 2007, two years after he became an MP. The Guardian has published a letter from his lawyers in November which reads: “Mr Shapps MP has at no time misled over the use of a pen name. Indeed I now understand that he openly published his full name alongside business publications, making it clear that he used a pen name merely to separate business and politics, prior to entering Parliament.” In fact How To Corp. which was set up in 2000 was registered at Companies House in 2005, the year of the election. All of this had led to Grant Shapps apology today. He told the BBC he had ” screwed up”, by denying he had a second job while an MP. Mr Shapps said he responded over-firmly at interview on LBC. Labour wants an immediate enquiry into his conduct to establish all the facts in the interests of the public. David Cameron’s official spokesman said this morning, “The Prime Minister has full confidence in Grant Shapps.” We approached the Conservative party for an interview with Grant Shapps but he wasn’t available. They suggested we speak to Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, and a Member of the Public Accounts Committee. This is an unfortunate position, isn’t it, to say the least, to have your party chairman admitting that he “screwed up” so close to an election.
STEWART JACKSON: Well Martha he stumbled in an interview on the precise date he ceased to have a business interest. But let’s be honest, there’s no wrongdoing. All his outside interests were properly and transparently declared. And it’s normal for authors to use pen names. What this is, we’re looking at a story which is ten years old, when essentially he was a new backbencher. There’s nothing new. And ..
MARTHA KEARNEY: Well the new thing is you said that he stumbled in the interview. In fact what he said was incorrect, wasn’t it? And he was asked about it a number of times.
STEWART JACKSON: Well he’s admitted getting the timing wrong. The fact is that this is low politics from a Guardian and Labour party tag team in the run up to the Budget. I don’t think it’s got any traction with people out there who are worried about their mortgages, their pensions, their savings and the forthcoming General Election.
MARTHA KEARNEY: You don’t think there’s public concern about MPs having second jobs?
STEWART JACKSON: No I don’t think that there’s concern if people are fully transparent, and they declare what they should declare. But I think what we see here is a hatchet job in the run up to the Budget by the Labour Party, who hate everything that Grant Shapps stands for. He’s a dynamic and successful party chairman. He’s a self-made entrepreneur, founded his print company when he was twenty one. And he’s done pretty well. They hate that. They’re anti-business. And I think actually this is going to backfire on them.
MARTHA KEARNEY: Well you talked about the need to be wholly transparent, and that is something that people expect from their politicians. But even Grant Shapps himself has admitted that isn’t the case, hasn’t he, by saying he screwed up. That again and again in interviews he talks about using the pseudonym as being before he entered Parliament. And yet it emerges that this wasn’t the case.
STEWART JACKSON: Well he did of course use it before he entered Parliament, because that was one of his business interests.
MARTHA KEARNEY: Before, and while being an MP.
STEWART JACKSON: Well he’s admitted today as I understand and made it quite clear that he was wrong to say on LBC that he relinquished all to all intents and purposes involvement in the business. But everyone knew .. you know he’s been through the wringer on this across media over the last two or three years, Channel 4, Guardian and other newspapers and other media, on this particular issue. He’s been pretty straightforward and said yes, I did use a pen name. It’s quite normal. I think this is pretty hypocritical from the Labour Party. They’ve got many people who get outside interests. Look at someone like Tristram Hunt, who’s a published author and lecturer, coining in a few thousand pounds a year. As long as people know about it, that’s absolutely fine, and they can make their own judgment. He’s a successful party chairman, and I think that’s the real agenda here. Labour want to take him down in the Budget week, and they’re getting the help of the print media, particularly The Guardian.
MARTHA KEARNEY: But I suppose the point of this is that he wasn’t transparent about it in the interviews that he’s given, and even his lawyer’s letter talks about the fact that he used the pseudonym prior to entering Parliament, which wasn’t exclusively the case. It makes it sound like it was happening before he entered Parliament, but it carried on while he was an MP.
STEWART JACKSON: Well of course The Guardian published a story that was completely false, in fact it was a lie, last Tuesday about my own committee. And The Guardian also engaged in dodgy tax avoidance, the Guardian Media Group. So I’ll take lectures in probity and integrity from The Guardian with a big pinch of salt Martha. As far as I can see, Grant Shapps has admitted that he made an error on LBC. Everything’s in the public domain in terms of his business interests. And I think on that basis we should focus on the bigger picture, which is Conservative competence versus Labour chaos at the forthcoming General Election. That’s the choice for voters.
MARTHA KEARNEY: Stewart Jackson, thanks for joining us.