You know how it is, you’re arranging a photo op for the Deputy PM and you accidentally take him to a dogging site. We’ve all done it. Well, no, but former LibDem press officer Ben Rathe did:
“It was the Liberal Democrat Conference 2013, and my role back then was planning all of the visits that Nick Clegg was doing over the course of the 5 days in Glasgow. This included finding somewhere suitable to announce a new 5p charge on plastic bags.
I picked out a lovely nature reserve just south of Glasgow called Cathkin Marsh, which allowed us to tell the story of how discarded carrier bags murder cute, furry animals, damage the environment and ruin picturesque landscapes.
Now, as part of arranging any visit for Nick, who at that time was obviously DPM, you had to recce the site with his Metropolitan Police protection team. As we were in Scotland, we were also accompanied by some officers from Police Scotland, who opened my eyes to a startling fact.
‘Interesting place for a visit’ said one officer after the recce, which had mainly involved walking around a marshland on a wooden boardwalk.
I, thinking he meant they usually take politicians to schools, factories or nursing homes, launched into an explanation about why we’d chosen this location, the environmental impact discarded bags can have etc etc. I was swiftly cut off.
‘No, I mean because of what the locals use it for’ he said.
Now, ‘what the locals use it for’ is never a good sentence to hear, because usually ‘the locals’ are never using ‘it’ for anything good. I didn’t want to ask what he meant, mainly because I knew what he was going to say if I did, but felt that I had to.
So I did. And then came the reply I had both expected and dreaded.
‘Oh, it’s a dogging site.’
A dogging site. I’d arranged for the Deputy Prime Minister to visit a dogging site…
I’d just about accepted that I had to come clean when my phone rang and James Holt, a Number 10 Special Adviser told me that the policy had been leaked and that we’d need to bring the visit forward to the next morning.
Decision made then. There was no way we could find an alternate location in that time, and the announcement needed a visit for the pictures. So I made the very brave (or very stupid) decision and told James that would be fine.
So the next morning came, and off went the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council on his morning visit. To a dogging site.”
Read the whole story on Rathe’s blog here. Armando Iannucci eat your heart out.