Grant Shapps’ gaffes: new Defence Secretary’s biggest blunders - from Boris Johnson photo to Wikipedia edits

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The former energy security and net zero minister has been appointed as Ben Wallace’s replacement at the Ministry of Defence by Rishi Sunak

Grant Shapps has been appointed as Defence Secretary by Rishi Sunak, after Ben Wallace resigned from the role on Thursday (31 August).

The MP for Hertfordshire constituency Welwyn Hatfield had been serving in the Cabinet as Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary. He has previously served in the top teams of Liz Truss, Boris Johnson and David Cameron.

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He said he was “honoured” to have been appointed to the role and pledged to continue “support for Ukraine in their fight against Putin’s barbaric invasion”. He also paid tribute to his predecessor, who is set to step down as an MP at the next general election.

As one of the Conservative Party’s best media operators, Shapps has often been the minister who gets sent out onto the airwaves to defend the seemingly indefensible (making his new role rather apt). But he is also known to be particularly gaffe prone.

So, what are his biggest blunders? Here’s everything you need to know.

  • The Boris Johnson photo edit

In the run up to the Virgin Orbit launch on 9 January 2023, Grant Shapps tweeted excitedly about how “delighted” the government was to be backing the “FIRST [sic] ever satellite launch from European soil”.

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There was nothing surprising about the Business Secretary pointing to news about a positive development for UK business. But what was unexpected was his choice of photograph.

Grant Shapps posted a tweet that included an image that Boris Johnson had been edited out of (image: Grant Shapps/Twitter)Grant Shapps posted a tweet that included an image that Boris Johnson had been edited out of (image: Grant Shapps/Twitter)
Grant Shapps posted a tweet that included an image that Boris Johnson had been edited out of (image: Grant Shapps/Twitter) | Grant Shapps/Twitter

Shapps used an image of himself meeting Virgin Orbit’s CEO Dan Hart at Newquay Spaceport. The photograph dated from 9 June 2021 ahead of the G7 summit that took place a few days later in Cornwall.

But the photo Shapps posted was missing someone - Boris Johnson. The then-Prime Minister had been at the centre of the original picture wearing Virgin Orbit overalls but had been edited out.

The original photograph had also been used on the government’s social media accounts. After this apparent photoshopping was pointed out, Shapps deleted the tweet from his account.

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The original image of a government visit to Newquay Spaceport to meet Virgin Orbit (image: Virgin Orbit)The original image of a government visit to Newquay Spaceport to meet Virgin Orbit (image: Virgin Orbit)
The original image of a government visit to Newquay Spaceport to meet Virgin Orbit (image: Virgin Orbit) | Virgin Orbit

Asked whether the Business Secretary had edited the image, an anonymous ally told BBC News: "Grant wasn’t aware anyone had edited the picture. He removed it as soon as it was pointed out.

“Obviously he wouldn’t endorse anyone rewriting history by removing the former PM from a picture. He was proud to serve in Boris Johnson’s government."

It led to several hilarious reactions on social media. NationalWorld has rounded up some of the best from the Twittersphere:

  • ‘Mysterious’ Wikipedia edits

Grant Shapps’s photo mishap was not the first time the Cabinet minister has been ridiculed for a gaffe. In 2012, while he was the Conservative Party chair, Shapps admitted to editing his own Wikipedia entry using anonymous accounts.

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The Observer reported that these accounts had removed references to previous embarrassing political gaffes, his business career and his net worth using computers in his constituency office. In 2015, The Guardian also reported that either Shapps himself or someone close to him had also used an anonymous Wikipedia account to edit the entries of his political opponents. Shapps denied the allegations.

  • The use of pseudonyms

In a separate 2015 incident, Shapps was forced to admit he had held a second job under the pseudonym Michael Green. There had been questions about the identity of Michael Green several years earlier, which led to a surreal doorstepping of Shapps by Channel 4’s political reporter Michael Crick.

His other pseudonyms have included: Corinne Stockheath, Dr JLM Richards and Richard Warton - although Shapps insists they are all real people. All were used to provide testimonials for his business venture HowToCorp.

  • Liberal Democrat by-election comments

One of Shapps’ earliest blunders came when he was a vice-chairperson of the Conservative Party in 2007. After the death of Labour Party MP Piara Khabra, who represented Ealing Southall, West London, a by-election took place in the constituency.

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Shapps was involved in the Tory candidate’s campaign. In a bid to destabilise the Liberal Democrats’ election bid, he commented on a YouTube post by the party while pretending to be a Lib Dem supporter, writing: “Okay, 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.”

The only flaw in the plan was that he had forgotten he was logged in under his own name. In the end, the ruse didn’t work. The Lib Dems beat the Conservatives to second-place in the constituency.

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