Full disclosure: I know Grant Shapps and have done for years. I have been to his house. He was a good Conservative Party Chairman and is a competent campaigner. He is a great local MP. Becoming leader of the Conservative Party, however, is a big ask. Like Margaret Thatcher before him, Grant has struck first. Unfortunately, so far that is all that he has going for him. Shapps has the potential to be Party leader but he needs to seriously raise his game, setting out a clear vision for country and party.
The question at the top of this article is not rhetorical. The 2015 General Election was an unexpected victory for the Conservatives and Grant Shapps was one of the main drivers. He deserved to be rewarded, but instead he was sacked from the cabinet due to vicious and untrue allegations made against him by a Wikipedia administrator, Richard Symonds. A ruling of the Wikipedia Arbitration committee later exonerated Shapps and humiliated the Guardian newspaper.
Those who claim Shapps had nothing to do with the victory are being nonsensical – they would have been quick to blame him if the election was lost. Shapps’ successors as Conservative campaign organisers had a far better hand to play in the 2017 election – starting far further ahead in the polls. They squandered it.
Shapps has a good story to tell organisationally. His problem is that he is no longer seeking an organisation role but instead seeking to lead. It is a significantly different skillset he has yet to rise to. On 15th October the Mail on Sunday allowed Shapps a full page article. Many Conservative MPs would kill for such an opportunity.
Grant is a capable and personable communicator and he seeks to portray his recent actions in the best possible light. The problem is not whether Grant is competent or likeable but that, after reading the article, I am little further forward on what he or his would do if the leadership came to them.
The polling companies such as YouGov or Ipsos MORI regularly poll to track the issues people care most about. The highest ranked issues are the stuff of peoples souls. For years, the highest ranked issues have been immigration and the NHS, with the Economy not far below. Brexit currently looms over all, a transitory issue touching on immigration and the Economy as well as many other issues.
In his article, Grant correctly identifies that we need a real and coherent alternative to “Corbyn’s socialist plan”. This only makes it more vexing that he fails to deliver one but instead chose to talk about a number of points of far from broad appeal. He talks about housing, Welwyn Hatfield and inheritance tax. These are not the major issues of concern to the British public of today.
These are not the foundations of a coherent vision that answers the concerns of the British people. The images evoked do not empower our dreams and aspirations. It is a bit of let down and a wasted opportunity.
There is a new game in town, worldwide. The peoples of the world are rejecting globalism, the uncaring rule of a remote, unelected and often unidentifiable elite. Instead they seek local empowerment – a kind of benevolent nationalism. Once stable institutions like the EU are crumbling under the weight of their failures.
Grant Shapps has an opportunity to help shape the new world. He is a capable, good and decent man – it is up to him to seize the moment.
Grant Shapps as Prime Minister is not an impossibility, but he needs to give Party members good reasons to back him, because there is no shortage of people who want to be leader of the Conservative Party.