April 25, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Some election commentators have noted this week that one in five of the general public had no idea of who Grant Shapps is. The Chairman of the Conservative Party is not someone who makes a lot of speeches in Parliament and whose main responsibility is the organisation of the Conservatives as a political party (fundraising, recruiting members, candidate selection etc). Sometimes he appears in the media, but generally a good Chair will not find him or herself with a major media profile. Yet this week Shapps has been very much in the media, as Wikipedia published some logs that show that a user named Contribsx has exhibited a rather unique obsession with the Tory Chair’s reputation.
Shapps, it must be noted, has denied any connection with this anonymous Wikipedia account. I must note that he once threatened to sue a constituent over an allegation (recently proven to be true) that he continued to operate under his business pseudonym Michael Green AFTER being elected to Parliament, so I am wary of what Shapps himself calls his “over-denials”.
Contribsx emailed another user in September 2013 saying that “I have been contemplating tackling the Shapps page which is in need of some work. Looks to have been hijacked somewhat and is in need of tightening up with proper balance achieved.” Contribsx went on to say that “I will be careful not to remove criticism…this should be a balanced and dispassionate article like all others.”
All fine, but Contribsx’s first move was to remove a reference at the top of the Wiki page to Michael Green – under which Shapps sold get-rich-quick schemes. Then a critical reference to donations Shapps had received in opposition from firms connected with his shadow housing portfolio was removed. Then a large portion of the Wiki entry surrounding Shapps’ business activities was removed and rebuttals added in for every allegation against him.
Wikipedia then showed that almost every time Shapps’ page was changed, so were others. Karl Turner, the Shadow Attorney General, had called on the Prime Minister to investigate Shapps over his repeated denials he had posed as Michael Green whilst an MP. After that, Contribsx posted on Turner’s Wiki page that he had “admitted breaking House of Commons rules by sending out invitations to a £45 a head Labour party fundraiser fro parliamentary email” without noting that the Parliamentary Commisioner for standards had dismissed the allegations.
The strangest part of this is why someone who is such a dedicated fan of Grant Shapps has decided they should go to such length to conceal their identity. Wikipedia tracked a range of IP addresses used by Contribsx to a web hosting service that is regularly used by spammers.
It is important to say that there is still no evidence that Contribsx is connected in any way with Grant Shapps. His official diary and witnesses have attested to it being impossible for Shapps himself to have made at least four of the changes. It has also been discovered that the Wikipedia administrator who banned Contribsx from contributing anymore to Wikipedia is a Liberal Democrat activist called Richard Symonds who has also admitted breifing the Guardian about all this (although he insists the Guardian got in touch with him and asked him a straight question about it, which he answered).
This affair of course won’t affect the election. But as a story of the depths to which this election campaign has fallen in terms of quality of political argument, it will take some beating.