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Taxpayers foot the bill of Shapps’ MoD extravagance

The defence secretary has splashed out £192,000 on entertainment and hospitality in his first six months in office

Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

Defence secretary Grant Shapps may stand accused of focusing too much on succeeding Rishi Sunak and too little on protecting the nation – it’s been claimed he’s spending as few as six days a month at the Ministry of Defence – but the taxpayer has still been billed £192,000 for entertainment and hospitality during his first six months in office. 

“The contrast between this awful little spiv and his predecessor Ben Wallace – a former army man who was a stickler when it came to expenses – could not be greater,” whispers one disgruntled MoD toiler. “Shapps is quaffing and chomping his way through more than a grand a day.”

Shapps arrived with a bang: no less than £57,024 was splashed out on a shindig at Navy Command after he’d agreed to take up the post, and then a further £10,126 was spent on social events in September, £43,932 in October, £18,715 in November, £32,153 in December as well as £38,537 in January and £48,818 in February. 

The most recent totals declared show MoD head office and corporate services splashed out £16,605 in February; as well as £5,428 for a single event in January. The latest expenses shown for Strategic Command for January alone amounted to £21,060 across 18 events.

Shapps has been told he should be working “flat out” at building up the UK’s armed forces at a time of heightened international tension. Yet he has reportedly revived the SLAP WhatsApp group – Shapps Leadership Action Plan – that was originally set up for his 2022 leadership bid and is putting aside time to plot his latest bid to lead his party.

Shapps, a multi-millionaire businessman, is however accustomed to the high life. In his former life, running a web-marketing business selling self-help guides that ostensibly showed people how to become “stinking rich,” he boasted he had a private plane, a six-bedroom mansion and a car equipped with “every refinement you could imagine – why, it even has a fridge,” in a sales letter he wrote in 2004.

To the extent it involves compromising images, one senior media executive may be feeling a degree of empathy with William Wragg, the hitherto unknown member for Hazel Grove who is at the centre of the latest in a wearyingly long succession of Tory sex scandals.

Mandrake hears the media executive decided to bed down on a sofa at the home of a junior female colleague after a surfeit of alcohol. His reluctant hostess had the presence of mind to switch on the CCTV she had set up in her bedroom to monitor for intruders.

Sure enough, in the early hours, said executive came into her room and climbed into her bed as she slept. Waking her up, a noisy altercation ensued and she fought off his clumsy advances and finally managed to get him out of her room.

Armed with the CCTV footage, in which the executive is clearly identifiable, the victim has taken the matter up with their employer. HR are currently working through the innumerable issues involved and hoping none of it comes out.

Although a serial Tory leadership contender, Penny Mordaunt is still best known simply as the woman who carried the sword of state during King Charles’s coronation.

Rather tragically, she recreated her big moment at the opening of a charity shop in her Portsmouth North constituency. “I thought I’d put my sword-wielding days behind me but I was delighted to make an exception for Barnardo’s,” Mordaunt joked as she posed with the fake sword, significantly lighter than the real sword of state she carried at the coronation. That was so heavy she had to take painkillers to ensure she could get through the day.

The madcap Barclay family look increasingly unlikely to reacquire the Telegraph group – it now seems to be a two-horse race involving the GB News investor Paul Marshall and the Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere – but their adviser and chair-designate Nadhim Zahawi need not fret too much about his future earnings.

Mandrake hears his wife Lana’s £90.5m property empire has just racked up profits of £2m. She uses her maiden name on official company documents and is listed as having control of three property outfits. Her husband – sacked by Rishi Sunak over his tax affairs – makes fleeting reference to his wife’s property interests in the register of MPs’ interests.

Zahawi, a former chancellor, will be fighting to hold on to his Stratford-on-Avon seat at the next election and it’s a target for the Lib Dems. 

Rishi Sunak’s government has frustrated the UAE bid for the Telegraph with a proposed law that would ban foreign states from holding any direct stakes in UK newspaper assets. This has not gone down well with the PM’s father-in-law NR Narayana Murthy, the billionaire co-founder of the IT conglomerate Infosys, which does a lot of business in the UAE, and its rulers are not best pleased by this development. 

The situation has been compounded so far as Murthy is concerned by Sunak’s tougher stance on Israel over its butchery in Gaza. The Israeli software company Panaya is a wholly owned subsidiary of Infosys.

It’s a measure of the absurdity of the X social networking site under Elon Musk that Larry the Cat – the so-called chief mouser to the Cabinet Office – has now been granted an unsolicited blue tick. “Just to be clear, I’ve not paid for it, I didn’t ask for it and I don’t want it,” Larry meowed to his 800,000 followers. “This account being verified is beyond silly.”

Larry, incidentally, would now be known as Winston the Cat had Mandrake not broken the story in 2011 that the then prime minister David Cameron had acquired the tabby from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home to deal with an infestation of rats. Ever the PR man, Cameron had told his people to announce that he had acquired the cat which he had taken it upon himself to rename Winston. 

One of his aides phoned me in a state of high dudgeon after I broke the story before they could get their press release out and disclosed the name the cat had been given – and answered to – at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. 

You’ve read the newspaper, now try the political party. Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party and other French, Romanian, Slovenian, Polish and Danish political groupings want to unite the EU’s unifying liberal forces under the banner of a new alliance called The New Europeans.

It’s not yet a political party – and it has, for the record, nothing whatsoever to do with this newspaper – but its establishment under French law and the 22 MEPs it can already claim as members see it as a first step to creating one. Michał Kobosko, president of the New Europeans association, says: “If you want to consolidate a bloc against the far right, then you need to consolidate.”

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