Thursday, September 13, 2007


“Shaaaappps!” (Thunk)

…And it was all going so well. Ming had us applauding about climate change and Iraq yesterday, and then he had to go and say exactly the wrong thing about a referendum. I was going to tot up just how many Lib Dem bloggers disagree with him, but James Graham got there first with a brilliant post (which also includes Daffy Duck). Will we all be grumpy at Conference now? How can I cheer us up? It’s as easy as 1234! This summer saw the emergence of Grant Shapps as a great new comic character: here come his greatest hits, and what they have to do with Doctor Who

Just a few short months ago, no-one had heard of Tory MP Grant Shapps. Even Mrs Shapps was in the dark. Then along came the Ealing Southall by-election, and excited claims (mysteriously not heard since) that he was the Tories’ Chris Rennard. As Mark Pack’s serialisations of Mr Shapps’ hilarious misadventures since have failed to be shortlisted among the Best Lib Dem Blog Posts of the Year – along with Jonathan Wallace’s exposé of Labour’s less amusing election tactics – I thought it was time to remind you of a selection, so if you ever meet Mr Shapps you’ll be able to call out with his other fans ‘Tell us the one about the password again!’ and show him he’s still a beloved entertainer.

“Where Should I Stick This Stake Poster, Missus?”

Liberal Democrats will mostly first have heard of him when he tried to stymie the Lib Dem Ealing by-election campaign by accusing us of dirty tricks (in an unnamed previous by-election) before it properly got going. Now, this should have been a clever thing to make up, because it sounds plausible: everyone knows the Liberal Democrats are good at improving their vote in by-elections and the Tories are rubbish at it (Mrs Thatcher used to be brilliant at winning by-elections when she was in Opposition – but then, of course, she was leading a party that was genuinely on the up). Naturally, say Labour and the Tories, this must be down to ‘dirty tricks’ like working harder and people liking Lib Dem policies when they actually get the chance to hear about them. So that’s a charge that’s made so often it often sticks.

Unfortunately, Mr Shapps made one fatal mistake… What was the kind of dirty trick he alleged? Well, he’s a Conservative, and though they have very few ideas, they have masses of dosh, so at election time their solution is always ‘throw lots of money around’. So he accused the Liberal Democrats of doing the same. To persuade people to put up posters, he claimed, a lottery was run with which to bribe them. Disaster! Oh, Mr Shapps – everyone knows Lib Dems don’t have all that money to throw around, so of course no-one was foolish enough to take you seriously except your absurdly credulous official spokesperson! Well, I said “one fatal mistake”. It also was a bit of a mistake to make an open challenge to the Lib Dems not to do it (‘Will you stop beating your wife?’), get an answer, then, er, not provide evidence for a single one of the open challenges you got back asking for evidence. A lottery ticket? No. A witness? No. Even the name of the by-election where you thought this occurred? No. In fact, no evidence, at any time, of any kind. It’s almost as if Mr Shapps made the whole thing up.

It was at that point that people first realised the subtle genius of Grant Shapps’ comic monologues, and started to snigger. Mr Shapps, though, wouldn’t let a promising comic career stop at just one shaggy poster story. His justifiably most famous gag was yet to come.

As Easy As “1234”

Still copied by tribute acts in comedy clubs and internet cafés up and down the land, the ‘Grant Shapps password joke’ has already passed into political legend. Recounted in comprehensive detail by a helplessly laughing Tim Ireland (who courteously provided the reproduction of one of Mr Shapps’ touring billboards shown above*), this particular act was first discovered by the man who would become Mr Shapps’ principal publicity agent, Mark Pack at Lib Dem Voice. Mr Shapps had already been recognised by David Cameron with the comedy title of Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for campaigning, and he’d been using that gig to rehearse an admittedly lively but still derivative form of the old Tory favourite, ‘No, no, missus, we really are going to win this one’. Then came his masterstroke, combining the hilarious ‘campaigning’ responsibility with the fresh satirical wickedness of styling himself an ‘Internet expert’.

Mr Shapps catapulted the Tories’ comedy routine into true genius with the innovation of combining the old standby of a ventriloquist act with a truly online gag (they’ve become experts at those; did you know that, only last week, they were the first party to use the Internet ever?). His sock-puppet friend aristoteliananselm was all set up to declaim a comic monologue via YouTube in the character of a ‘disillusioned Liberal Democrat activist’. Mr Shapps had practised and practised in the mirror to make sure the little friend on his hand looked like a completely realistic sock, when he was suddenly hit by a brainwave. Like all great ventriloquist acts, Mr Shapps realised that the secret is that the audience has to be in on the joke that, although there may appear to be two speakers, both of them have his voice. So after all that practice, Mr Shapps finally delivered the main part of his gag with his own naked hand:
“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.”
Genius! Imagine – not just to be able to style your own sock for a comic routine, but then daringly to pull it off your fingers and deliver the joke under the naked name of “GrantShapps” on YouTube.

There was a pause for breathless applause. You know – that moment when you’re not quite sure whether a new joke has worked. And then Mark Pack started laughing.

The punchline? Mr Shapps adding that his YouTube account must have been hacked by his opponents because they’d been able to guess his password. Which was “1234”. Bloggers round the land were in stitches, and, not to be der-blog-a-Tory, of course no-one was foolish enough to take him seriously except his absurdly credulous official spokesperson!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It seems such a tired old gag – but it was the way he delivered it. You’ll know that I’m used to being fairly opinionated on the Internet, and always under my own name. Well, just a couple of weeks ago I thought I’d try my hand at a very minor piece of rubbish faux-anonymity – I even accidentally signed my own name, like Mr Shapps – but I shouldn’t have given in to temptation, so I’ll leave it to the master. It just didn’t suit me, and I’m just not as funny. But when Mr Shapps told it – everybody laughed!

Mr Shapps Does Stand-Up (but not to examination**)

And from that day to this, Mr Shapps’ patron Mark Pack has helpfully been plugging his act, making Mr Shapps the Lib Dem Voice equivalent of, say, that famously flattering photo of great lover Mr Andrew Neil which has been seen again and again. Who can forget:

Mr Shapps’ Doctor Who Inspiration

As part of this tribute article I can EXCLUSIVELY – as Mr Shapps’ absurdly credulous official spokesperson would say – reveal that Mr Shapps’ bumbling aide-de-camp act is inspired by a character called Shapp played by Davyd Harries in the 1979 Doctor Who story The Armageddon Factor, soon to be released alongside five others on DVD (best to shop around, though. And do you notice that, like the way Mr Shapps is rarely photographed these days with his sock puppet, the remote-controlled co-star of these DVDs, K-9, is hardly to be seen?).

Mr “Shapps” even takes his stage name from the character of “Major Shapp,” long recognised as a great comic creation and famous piece of rhyming slang among Doctor Who fans for his unusual level of quality. Some people have claimed that this buffoonish performance is a smidgeon over the top. Others, that it doesn’t entirely fit in with a grim story of self-sacrifice and ultimate temptation among the pitiful survivors of a nuclear war. Still more suggest that the moment when he pratfalls onto his back, wailing
for help to his associate Surgeon Merak, then lies, legs splayed, gun sticking up in a vaguely phallic bit of physical comedy, might just be the worst bit of acting ever seen in Doctor Who. Not a bit of it! This inspired slapstick is only let down by the way that the story fails to fit in with him, just as the by-election didn’t quite work to Mr Shapps’ script – and remember, Mr Shapps went one better. He refined the act so that, after loudly bellowing not someone else’s but his own name of “Shaaaappps,” he fell flat on his face.

So, when The Armageddon Factor comes out on DVD in a week and a half’s time as part of The Key to Time boxed set – even if Mr Harries’ performance isn’t quite to your taste, the stories in this box and the wealth of extras add up to the most fantastic release this year – be sure to rush out and buy your copy. Through a tragic oversight, no money from sales goes into Tory coffers.

Mr Shapps seems to have gone a little silent in recent weeks, so let me speak for his legion of fans and say to Mr Cameron, bring him back! Save him for the nation! He deserves to be remembered in rhyming slang of his own: Grant Shapps is a real talent. Not a campaigning talent, admittedly, but anyone who can inspire such gales of innocent laughter is worth his weight in lost deposits.

*Currently having image-pasting problems: Mr Shapps’ touring billboard with aristoteliananselm can be seen here.
**Joke provided by my beloved.

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That was a very good post. I got over 3/4 the way through it before it was time to go to work the next morning.

Thanks, Chris! Well, that’s what happens if you read all those wordy Mark Pack pieces that keeping popping out rather than sticking to my own famously succinct prose… Or was your fatal mistake waiting for an absurdly credulous official spokesperson’s adverts to load up? ;-)

The first part of your piece on Tree-hugging hippy Shapps was particularly good, by the way. And I seem to be helping trail it on Lib Dem Blogs Aggregated!
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