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Grant Shapps launches confident bid for Tory leadership as he vows to cut the cost of living 

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps launches his bid to be the leader of the Conservative Party today in The Mail on Sunday with a simple pitch – ‘I can win you the election.’ 

His confidence stems from his experience as party chairman in 2015 – ‘I helped David Cameron win’, he says – his ‘grit’ as a campaigner and his love of spreadsheets.

He promises an agenda of being ‘instinctively’ in favour of lowering taxes and cutting red tape, adding: ‘The level of taxes is totally unsustainable. We need to leave money in people’s pockets.’ However, he is short on the details of how to achieve it.

The Cabinet Minister criticises the way so many taxpayers have been dragged into paying higher rates as tax thresholds have not moved in line with inflation. ‘People aren’t stupid,’ Mr Shapps says.

Last week, he used his number-crunching skills to urge Boris Johnson to quit while the Prime Minister was in his Downing Street bunker vowing to stay, telling him he would lose a second confidence vote.

Languishing behind in the leadership rankings does not faze him, and as someone who has cheated death twice – in a serious car crash and beating cancer – he relishes defying the odds and coming out on top. We meet in his Westminster office on Friday as he calls Tory MPs to shore up support.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps launches his bid to be the leader of the Conservative Party today in The Mail on Sunday with a simple pitch – ‘I can win you the election’

His team says the 53-year-old has not spent the past few months planning a leadership run, unlike many of his Cabinet colleagues. Backbenchers appear to confirm this, saying his calls started from Wednesday when it was clear the end was nigh for Boris.

But while MPs and Ministers demanded Mr Johnson’s head on a plate, the family of Ukrainian refugees that Mr Shapps has taken into his home lamented the Prime Minister’s downfall.

He says: ‘They were really sad to see him go. Say what you like about Boris Johnson, you cannot fault his approach to Ukraine, in my view. They intuitively understand that.’

The three-generation family have settled in well – although their dog has scared away his two cats. Having them stay has taught Mr Shapps – a third-generation immigrant himself – that ‘freedom isn’t free’.

He says he feels sorry for the Prime Minister on a human level, recalling Mr Johnson’s own near brush with death from Covid at the start of the pandemic – but reveals it has been ‘frustrating’ sitting around the Cabinet table during these ‘self-inflicted’ scandals.

‘You’ve got all these other distractions going on – not just Covid – but self-inflicted governmental, No 10 things, meaning too much of the machine has been dealing with things which are not about people’s everyday lives, but about the Prime Minister’s position, frankly.’

His confidence stems from his experience as party chairman in 2015 – ‘I helped David Cameron win’, he says – his ‘grit’ as a campaigner and his love of spreadsheets

His confidence stems from his experience as party chairman in 2015 – ‘I helped David Cameron win’, he says – his ‘grit’ as a campaigner and his love of spreadsheets

Despite this, he repeatedly defended the Government on air as it went from crisis to crisis. Why? He says he understood people’s anger, and felt it himself. His father went into hospital with a stroke in December 2020 before catching Covid there, and Mr Shapps did not see him for four months – apart from once ‘through a window’.

He pledges to restore integrity in public life, and points to his management of the Department of Transport, and his low turnover of staff in his MP’s office. Accountability is key, he says, adding that he insists on audit trails and putting every decision in writing, with named officials on documents to know who made them.

‘Efficiency in government comes from the top,’ he says.

Born in Hertfordshire, the Welwyn Hatfield MP became involved in politics from an early age, and at 21 set up a printing business.

He has survived two brushes with death. One was a car crash in Kansas when he was 20 and travelling in the US. The car flipped five times, with Mr Shapps thrown out. He was in a coma for nearly a week, and says the odds of coming out of it were 50-50. A decade later he was diagnosed with the cancer Hodgkin lymphoma and had a year of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Here, too, he beat the odds. Recalling both now he says: ‘I’m a fighter. I don’t mind being the underdog.’

He completed a business and finance course at Manchester polytechnic and points out that he does not have the typical ‘PPE at Oxford’ background of many Westminster Tory peers, such as leadership frontrunners Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, who both read Philosophy, Politics and Economics there.

As a teenager Mr Shapps said he was ‘never particularly rebellious’ and spent his time programming video games and selling them. The self-confessed ‘geek’ says: ‘I have a spreadsheet for everything!’

Asked if he had taken drugs, he says: ‘I have never done hard drugs. I have been to Amsterdam. Put it another way – never where it’s been illegal.’ Asked whether that meant he had had cannabis, he adds: ‘I’m not actually sure whether I actually tried it or just sat in a tea room.’

In 2015 he quit as a Minister after allegedly failing to tackle claims of bullying in the party that may have led to the suicide of an activist. As co-chairman at the time, he said: ‘The buck stops with me.’

He says the party had told ministers not to speak to the family directly, but to go through lawyers, which made him uncomfortable. He quit, even though he says David Cameron asked him not to, and says he contacted them privately.

As Transport Secretary he has taken a tough line on the rail unions’ pay dispute. He says there is a way to boost pay, but only if staff contracts ensure standardised working on Sundays, for example. Once ‘Remain-lite’, he backed Brexit after the vote in 2016 and now hails its opportunities and freedoms. He wants Britain to be the biggest economy in Europe by 2050 and praises the potential of investing in technology such as hydrogen.

He had his own scandal to deal with after it emerged he used pseudonyms to publish marketing guides. He was accused of hiding a second job, but insists all the ‘pen names’ were historic, as was any publishing income earned.

‘Labour weaponised it. It was a load of nonsense,’ he says. ‘Perhaps now when I look back, it’s a bit garish, but it’s bloody ancient history.’

As for the country, Mr Shapps says, ‘We are in a hole’ – pointing to everything from paying the bill for Covid, inflation, spiralling energy costs and the global effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, his specific agenda is not yet mapped out, and he speaks more of his ‘instincts’ as a Conservative than of policy pledges.

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