If you buy The Independent (no, seriously), you'll have noticed that their front page ('Exclusive: Tory Chairman Rocked by 'get rich quick probe'' despite the Guardian diary printing the story a few days ago) 'reveals' that Grant Shapps is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority for his pseudonymic business activities, after a complaint by a blogger. There's also an editorial calling on Shapps to go. The story is also reported in the news section of the Guardian, the New Statesman, by Sky News and of course the Welwyn and Hatfield Times.
That blogger is me. I'd like to make some simple points.
Here's my original post about the curious triple lives of Grant Shapps ('he's three of the sharpest business brains in the Conservative Party') and the frankly seedy and cynical material published by HowToCorp. Click here for my follow-up piece about the ASA agreeing to undertake an investigation. The full story of Shapps' chequered any multi-monickered life is summarised here.
'Friends of Grant Shapps' (which always means Grant Shapps) have made two points to the news organisations. The first is that 'any blogger' can make mischief by firing off a complaint. Very true. The joy of blogging and new media is that an amateur can devote time and resources to stories which a news organisation may not have the patience for. That doesn't make any complaint any less valid. A blogger is firstly a citizen: the tools employed are beside the point - and for a man whose business involved stealing other web-writers material, it's a bloody cheeky point.
The second accusation is that my complaint is 'politically motivated'. This is a bit strange coming from a politician. The Chair of the Conservative Party, no less. And from a man who deleted details of his funding from Wikipedia and posed as a Liberal Democrat to disrupt their party business, it's very rum indeed. One would have thought that any sign of political engagement would be welcomed in a cynical age…
I'm not sure why Grant Shapps thinks my complaint is 'politically motivated'. Indeed, I don't know why he has any comment to make at all. My complaint to the ASA did not mention Mr Shapps. It drew the organisation's attention to a company whose supposed leaders may not have existed, and questioned the veracity of the company's testimonials from satisfied customers. This last, I suspect, is where the real dirt is, by the way. Mr Shapps tells us he has no connection with HowToCorp any more - it's his wife's company now. Furthermore, he's not asked me what my motivation is. I think I'd complain about any organisation which behaves like this, whether connected to a Tory or a Labour representative.
However, I will make one political point. Go back to my original post. Read the 'How To Get Out of a Recession' and compare it to the government's programme. While Shapps ran the company, he made a fortune from plagiarising web material and from publishing frankly ridiculous get-rich-quick guides. We are in the middle of one of the deepest recessions in modern history. To have a prominent Member of Parliament recommending and practicing sharp practice, voodoo economics and flaky schemes is a disgrace. The country requires fundamental, structural economic change. From my perspective, it needs leftwing policies: from the government's, hardline monetarist and free market solutions seem attractive. Neither side recommends the kind of quick-buck hucksterism Mr Shapps and now his wife promote. His ability to maintain a double economic life does him no credit.
Mr Shapps has now spoken to the Welwyn and Hatfield Times.
But Mr Vole has since published the letter on his personal blog The Plashing Vole – even though the ASA explicitly asked the correspondence be kept private.
The point was made by Mr Shapps himself, who said he thought the ASA would take a “dim view” of the leaked letter.
Now the ASA has said it could close the investigation if it chooses to.
An ASA spokesman told the WHT: “We are aware that the complainant has published our correspondence despite requests to keep it confidential.
“The ASA reserves the right to close the investigation if the complainant does not respect our request.”
I declined that request. No mention was made to me by the ASA of closing the investigation if I publicised the investigation - the right has not been reserved. If Mr Shapps is trying to close down an investigation on these grounds, it shows a distinct lack of enthusiasm for examining the substance of the matter. Considering Mr Shapps posed as a Lib Dem to infiltrate one of their online forums, you'd think he'd approve of low-down dirty tactics… Although frankly I'm bemused as to why he's getting involved at all - I complained about a company he neither owns nor controls. What's his interest?
PS. Paul Uppal: I've not forgotten about you, by the way.