Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a reshuffle this week, though it’s open to interpretation if it was of the cabinet or deckchair kind.

Indubitably the most eye-catching switch-up was the move of Grant Shapps, the MP for Welwyn Hatfield to Secretary of Defence, one of the most senior roles in government.

His predecessor in the role, Ben Wallace, was seen by many as one of the more competent members of the cabinet, though it must be noted there isn’t much to be judged against. His immediate predecessor, Penny Mordaunt, was in situ for a little over two months and the previous incumbent, Gavin Williamson, is perhaps best remembered for saying “Russia should go away and shut up” in the wake of the 2018 Salisbury poisonings. It would appear Vladimir Putin was not intimidated by this fearsome rebuke, as the world’s biggest nuclear power has, notably, neither gone away nor shut up.

The role will be Mr Shapps’ fifth in Cabinet since being appointed Transport secretary in 2019, his CV resembling less that of a heavyweight politician and more a promising youngster from Eastern Europe who’s been bought by Chelsea and loaned out to various lower league clubs because they want to keep him on the books, just in case.

But who is Grant Shapps? What makes him uniquely qualified to deal with such a massive role at a time when war is raging on the continent? And what’s up with his Wikipedia page?


Born in Hertfordshire in 1968, Mr Shapps is first cousins with Clash lead guitarist Mick Jones. The punk pioneers were known for their left-wing political positions, with singer Joe Strummer famously wearing a t-shirt supporting Italy’s Brigate Rosse on stage. On the song ‘White Riot’, the group called for the white youth of Britain to rise up and emulate their black counterparts in America who “don’t mind throwing a brick”, while triple album Sandinista! celebrated the revolutionary government of Nicaragua. Mr Shapps’ brother, Andre, would go on to play keyboard for Jones’ subsequent band, Big Audio Dynamite, but it appears punk rock didn’t really rub off on young Grant.

Speaking to the Guardian in 2012 he explained his political ambitions came from watching the news as a teenager. He explained: “I knew then I wanted to get involved in running the country. I thought, why have some other idiots decide the laws?"

The Herald: UK energy secretary Grant Shapps

Unlike many of his Conservative peers, Mr Shapps did not receive an expensive private education. He attended state primary school Yorke Mead before attending an all-boys grammar school. He would later receive an HND in business and finance from Manchester Polytechnic.

His first foray into politics came in the city, with Mr Shapps standing in the safe Labour seat of Old Moat and being roundly defeated. He subsequently failed to be elected as a councillor in London in 1994, and as an MP in 1997 and 2001. In the nation’s capital he stood in a ward which represented the Chalkhill estate and, as he tells it, on the slogan: “Vote for me on Thursday and we'll start knocking your house down on Friday”.

Read More: Bad Penny: but has Ms Mordaunt's ill-judged broadside done her more harm than good?


By 2005 the Labour government and in particular Prime Minister Tony Blair had become increasingly unpopular, largely on the back of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Though Blair was ultimately re-elected his party recorded the lowest percentage of the popular vote for any party which achieved a majority – they lost the popular vote in England – and shed 48 seats. Among the casualties was health minister Melanie Johnson, who lost Welwyn Hatfield to Mr Shapps.

The Herald: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Friday May 7, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Tolga Akmen/PA Wire

The new MP immediately threw his backing behind David Cameron in the party leadership contest, seconding the former Eton man’s nomination. His man was duly elected and Shapps was rewarded with the position of vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and, later, shadow housing minister.

On stepping into the role Mr Shapps faced a twin-pronged issue of a long waiting list for social housing and the tabloid love of alliteration. Rarely was his name not preceded by ‘hapless housing minister’ as he scored a series of own goals. These included announcing a new policy to allow British people to skip immigrants in the housing queue – councils already had this power -, repeatedly bringing up Cornish pasties on the Andrew Marr Show and getting in an on-air spat with John Humphrys over the claim he’d backed out of a previous interview. Then there was his Wikipedia page.

All in the edit

The gaffes discussed heretofore were far from the only ones Mr Shapps made during his rise through the ranks. In 2007 he sought to pose as a Liberal Democrat, posting a comment on a video of then-leader Menzies Campbell. However, he forgot to log out of his personal account so the message: “realistically we’re not going to win though. Especially since the Tories have just received 5 defecting Councillors from Labour. Don’t quite know how they’ve done it, but the Tories have stolen a march on us this time” appeared under his own name. Mr Shapps claimed to have been hacked due to his password being "1234". One hopes his new role doesn't entail encrypting the Trident codes.

In 2012 Google blacklisted 19 of the Mr Shapps' business websites for violating rules on copyright infringement, while he was forced to admit using pseudonyms such as Michael Green, Corinne Stockheath and Sebastian Fox in his secondary job as a web marketeer.

None of these references appeared on his Wikipedia page, but some diligent soul had taken the time to correct the number of O Levels the MP had achieved and highlight his “influential” work on homelessness. The edits were made from Mr Shapps’ constituency office.

Attack dog

As seen in his spat with Humphrys, Mr Shapps can be relied upon to be an attack dog for his party in times of need. Though he was unceremoniously binned from his role as housing minister in 2015 – more accurately he resigned in the wake of a bullying scandal - he has been a regular fixture on television news whenever the Conservative party seems to be in a particularly sticky situation.

In 2017 he was revealed as the ringleader of a Tory group seeking to oust incumbent leader and Prime Minister Theresa May, and when she did eventually step down two years later he endorsed Boris Johnson as her successor. Follow his accession to Number 10, Mr Shapps – who is a qualified pilot - was rewarded with a return to Cabinet as transport secretary.

Read More: A renewed threat to the free world, or just the Derek Zoolander of American politics?

Presumably reasoning it’s better to have him in the tent, the parade of Tory leaders since then have kept Mr Shapps at the top table. A leadership bid lasting three days and the subsequent endorsement of Rishi Sunak didn’t stop Liz Truss making him Home Secretary the day before she resigned and despite his having described her controversial mini-budget as “making big giveaways to those that need them least”.

Shapps lasted precisely six days in the role before Rishi Sunak made him business secretary following the resignation of Jacob Rees-Mogg, a position he held for around four months before being shunted to the newly-created Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero – a symbol of Mr Sunak’s commitment to recycling, presumably.

In his brief time in the role Shapps vowed to ‘max out’ North Sea oil and earmarked £20bn for a fleet of new nuclear reactors, which is certainly one approach to green energy.

As for his new role Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British army, says the new defence secretary “knows very little about defence”, though Boris Johnson considers him “an excellent choice”.

Mr Shapps has already pledged his backing to Ukraine, having visited Kyiv last month to announce export finance guarantees. One can only hope his solution to the information war is a little more nuanced than editing Wikipedia articles.