- “UK’s mobile phone scam,” screamed the front page of the Daily Mail on 29 October 2016. A new report from something calling itself the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG) says that 17M of us have poor mobile phone reception at home – or none at all. It identified 525 “not spots” where mobile coverage is non-existent. Foreign visitors often get a better signal than UK residents. BIG’s findings were widely reported in the press that day.
- It’s easier to say what BIG is not than what it is. It’s not a parliamentary select committee, nor is it listed on the latest register of all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) (at 12 October 2016). There is, though, an infrastructure APPG, chaired by Stephen Hammond MP, on the register. BIG is a cross-party group of MPs “dedicated to promoting better infrastructure across the United Kingdom.” (But who doesn’t want better infrastructure?) Grant Shapps, the former cabinet minister, is chair. And it was Mr Shapps, also an ex-chair of the Conservatives, who popped up on TV and radio on 29 October 2016 promoting the latest BIG report.
- “Freddie Downing” is the author of the report PDF document, according to the PDF metadata (screen shot in Figure 1). Yet there’s no reference to “Freddie Downing” in the document, which is strange if he is indeed the author. Maxine Vining is acknowledged on the cover for research (“Research by Maxine Vining”).
- Ms Vining works for Mr Shapps at parliament, the latest register of MPs’ staff (at 20 September 2016) shows. But Mr Downing isn’t on the register as working for any MP there.
- So who is “Freddie Downing”? Is he another of Mr Shapps’ alter egos? I refer, of course, to the senior Tory’s notorious use of the pseudonym Michael Green to flog a get-rich-quick scheme online. On 29 October 2016, I therefore asked Mr Shapps these two legitimate questions in an email to his personal address at parliament.
- At date of publication (early morning) I haven’t received a reply.