THE WAY WE LIVE
It is oddly reassuring to have a chirpy, bounderish character at the heart of the Tory administration. Rather as the 1980s and 1990s were funnier, in a grim sort of way, when Jeffrey Archer was skipping across the political stage, so the presence of Grant Shapps adds colour and comedy to today's rather bland public life.
To judge by recent interviews, Shapps is surprised that his past behaviour has raised eyebrows. The modern bounder's great strength is that, while others may worry about, say, a politician being involved in questionable websites, or manipulating Wikipedia, or having an alternative career under a different name, he is simply unable to see the problem. Prissy concerns about ethics or appropriateness are lost in the dazzle of his personal holy trinity: wealth, success and self.
Because they live by their own rules, these people tend to be rather interesting and funny. The Conservative co-chairman, in a Sky interview, explained there was nothing unusual in inventing an alter persona, Michael Green, an online marketer so wealthy that he flew his own jet and lived in a "fabulous mansion", nor in decorating this biography with a photograph of a male model. It was the sort of thing which happened all the time.
In a way, he is right. We have now entered the great age of multiple identity, and no one thinks twice before inventing names, and even personalities, when they go online. One alternative version of oneself can be nastier than the original, and slash and burn its way through the messageboards and blogs. Another might be more shamelessly self-promoting and will praise its creator's work and thoughts online, perhaps even sprucing up or sanitising a Wikipedia entry. A third might explore areas of sexuality which its creator would prefer not to acknowledge.
It is dangerous, not only because it loosens any sense of moral responsibility, but because it is emotionally unhealthy. Those who invent abusive avatars have found themselves shocked when asked by a forum administrator to tone down their comments, almost as if the nastiness had come from a stranger. One internet troll of my acquaintance ended up conducting online discussions, even rows, between his various identities.
While no one has suggested that Grant Shapps is playing internet games, he has undeniably divided his public self into two distinct people: a conscientious MP and shadow minister and, quite separately, a wealthy and ambitious online marketing guru. …