Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps is facing calls to resign after it emerged that he continued to work on the side after being elected to parliament for longer than he originally admitted.
In an interview in February, Shapps had flatly denied having a second job in web marketing after becoming an MP. But he has since admitted that he did in fact continue to work under a pseudonym for five months into his parliamentary career.
The second job was fully declared at the time but Labour is out for blood. The opposition wants a full inquiry into whether Shapps broke parliamentary rules, claiming that he misled the public by saying he hadn’t been working.
Labour election chief Lucy Powell has written to David Cameron, arguing that Shapps’ actions “demonstrate contempt for his constituents”.
But while these revelations about his dual identity will no doubt cause embarrassment for Shapps and his party, it is unlikely that the Labour Party will secure a resignation from Shapps. As is now so often the case, we are more likely to see him quietly moved out of the spotlight for a while, without further action.
It was revealed some time ago that Shapps used the pseudonym Michael Green for business purposes. It was a ploy many found rather curious but little more than that. The fact that he held onto that identity longer than previously thought have compounded the problem though. For at least a year after he was elected to parliament, Shapps continued to trade under his other name for business reasons.
And indeed, rather than winding his company down once in office, The Guardian reports that Shapps was talking of expanding in 2006 and has a recording of him telling clients he would make them a “ton of money” by Christmas.
This whole incident is bad for the Conservatives. It plays to the narrative that they are somewhat unscrupulous in their business associations. Shapps, like other Tories, stands accused of being overly interested in securing personal wealth and not always being honest about the way in which he obtained it.
But recent weeks have thrown up scandals that put politicians from all sides in a bad light. Conservative Malcolm Rifkind and Labour’s Jack Straw were caught in stings trying to make money using their parliamentary influence.
Voters are feeling more and more cynical about the behaviour of politicians of all parties, so Labour may be on to a loser in hoping to capitalise on Shapps’ mistake. There may well be a negative public response to his behaviour but it is likely to be folded into a wider sense of unease. This will be seen as just another case of MPs protecting their own interests rather than those of the electorate.
This latest incident is more than a passing problem but it hardly counts as a major scandal. The only real consequence is likely to be that voters will see rather less of Shapps in the media in the run-up to the general election than would otherwise have been the case.
His defence that he “screwed up over dates” is weak and suggests either incompetence or economy with the truth. Obviously he and his party will wish this was not in the news, but compared to the economy, health, immigration, education and the respective merits of Ed Miliband and David Cameron it will not register once the election campaign gets into full swing.