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"John Prescott drove a car into a wall, while drunk"

By Tim Montgomerie
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The headline at the top of this blog is untrue. Completely false. If it appeared on a Wikipedia entry I should imagine the former Deputy PM would be very keen to have it removed. The allegation did not, as far as I know, ever appear on Mr Prescott's wikipedia page but it did appear on that of Grant Shapps.

There's been a lot of attacks on Mr Shapps in the newspapers over the last week, all targeting his past use of the internet. The Guardian has ANOTHER go this morning.

I'm not in a position to respond to every allegation that's been made against the new Conservative Chairman but at the root of the controversy has been a long-standing attempt by (1) his political opponents to use Wikipedia to smear him and then (2) those same opponents then attack his attempts to counter those smears.

Many MPs of all political colours in Britain and overseas will be aware of the problem. A politician's Wikipedia entry is one of the top results whenever you search any person's name. In recent years Grant Shapps' entry has contained serious errors, designed to damage him:
  • Online vandals, for example, listed him as a Jehovah's Witness. Without commenting on the beliefs of JWs it was an amendment without any foundation in truth and was certainly not designed to help Mr Shapps. On another occasion he was listed as an agnostic - again without basis in truth.
  • Another much more serious and libellous edit that was put on Shapps' page was that he once got drunk and drove his car into a wall.
  • One recent Guardian headline screamed: 'Grant Shapps altered school performance entry on Wikipedia'. In what can only be described as very partial journalism the article did not once care to mention that the alteration involved Grant removing an inaccurately 'high' grade from the page. I can envisage The Guardian headline if he hadn't acted against the inaccuracy... 'Tory Chairman does nothing about Wikipedia entry that exaggerated school performance'!

Commenting on all of this Grant Shapps now admits to resignation in his battle for an accurate Wikipedia entry:

"In my earlier days in Parliament when I saw something that was just plain wrong on a wiki page, I might be tempted to hit the delete key. However nowadays I just shrug my shoulders because any attempt to amend even the most outrageous, untrue or unsourced claim will be frowned upon."

I see the Left's attacks on Grant Shapps as a very deliberate attempt to try and discredit someone they see as a potentially formidable enemy. Grant's performance in his own seat is little short of spectacular. In the last three elections he has consistently outperformed the national swing by large margins:

  • In 2001 he received a swing of 3.9% while the national swing was 1.8%;
  • In 2005 it was 8% for Grant compared to 3% nationally;
  • At the last general election it was 11.1% versus 5%.

I'm concerned - like party members - that Grant must speak candidly to Cameron about the weaknesses of the party's overall strategy but I'm convinced that he (and his new Con HQ team) will start to build a much more impressive election machine. Grant's use of new media, single issue campaigning and LibDem-style pavement politics are what helped him become such an effective local candidate. I look forward to him bringing his experience to bear across the whole Tory operation and I understand why the Left are determined to damage him before he gets a chance to succeed.


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