AggregateIQ and the visit to Downing Street


Posted by in April's Magazine

Deidre Brock MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

AggregateIQ – I bet you’d never heard of them a couple of years ago. I certainly hadn’t and I haven’t since spoken to anyone who has. After the Brexit referendum we started hearing about Cambridge Analytica, strange things to do with Facebook quizzes, data collection that was against the law, breaches of campaign finance laws, dubious social media advertising and so on. By the spring of last year we started hearing about AggregateIQ, a tiny Canadian political consultancy and IT company in Canada.

This was the company that was microtargeting social media adverts during the Brexit campaign and some of the story was starting to alarm people. It smacked of something you might have expected the sci-fi author Ray Bradbury to write. Then a photograph emerged of Jeff Silvester and Zack Massingham of AggregateIQ visiting Downing Street after the Brexit referendum and it got me wondering who they met and why.

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Meetings involving Ministers, Special Advisers and senior civil servants are all supposed to be recorded and published in what is called Transparency Data, so I looked it up and there was no record of these two gentlemen being there – no record of them visiting and no record of who they met or why. That’s quite a breach of the rules so I asked the Prime Minister about it in a Written Parliamentary Question (WPQ):

To ask the Prime Minister, how many meetings with (a) staff and (b) representatives of AggregateIQ have taken place in No10 in each year since 2010; what the purpose was of those meetings; and who represented the Government at those meetings.

The way you have to word these questions is a bit odd but you get the gist. She responded:

Officials and advisers have meetings with a wide range of individuals and organisations on a wide range of subjects.

Which didn’t answer the question so I asked: 

To ask the Prime Minister, for what reasons the meeting at 10 Downing Street with (a) Jeff Silvester and (b) Zack Massingham of AggregateIQ was not reported in the Cabinet Office Transparency data; and if she will publish the (a) date of the visit, (b) who issued them with the invitation to the meeting, (c) who attended that meeting and what the purpose of that meeting was.

 And she replied:

The transparency data published on a quarterly basis relates to official meetings with external organisations and individuals.

Odd, isn’t it? Why would she not want to answer that question? Well, I brought it up at Prime Minister’s Questions where she said she’d write to me with an answer – she didn’t write so I asked in a WPQ when she would write and she answered: 

The transparency data published on a quarterly basis relates to ministerial meetings with external organisations and individuals. I have not met Aggregate IQ and there was therefore nothing to publish in the transparency data.

That’s not what I asked, though. We know that one of her closest advisors worked on the Leave campaign and is a personal friend of the AggregateIQ guys and we know that they visited Downing Street. Something that should be easily recorded and available for public scrutiny is being held back and we should know why that is. So I’ve written to the PM and reminded her that I’ve asked all these questions and received no answers.

I told her that the close connection her Political Secretary, Stephen Parkinson, has with AggregateIQ and its founders makes it even more important to be transparent. I’ve told her that I will keep going until we are told why Jeff Silvester and Zack Massingham of AggregateIQ visited No.10, who they met, who invited them, what the purpose of the meeting was and why the meeting was not recorded in the transparency data.

I will keep going until we are told why AggregateIQ’s visited No.10, who they met, who invited them and the purpose of the meeting

I don’t have much confidence in the chances of me getting a response but I’m going to keep going. Something at the heart of the UK Government wants this to stay buried and I want to know why. I had thought, back a while, that they might just have been visiting their old pal who now works in Downing Street, maybe had lunch and a chat about old times. If that were so, however, it would have been the work of an instant to put the record straight and apologise.

I’m starting to think that I sound like a conspiracy theorist and that’s not a good thing but so much happened in the Brexit referendum that we’re only hearing about in fits and starts, little snippets of information, that finding out another little bit about the connections is starting to look important. Someone once asked me how glamorous politics is, the truth is that good politics is the slow, hard slog that moves things along bit by bit.

Twitter: @deidrebrock

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