Press conferences may have their ups and downs but public speeches can be even worse. As I have said before Liberal Democrats and security are not easy bed fellows and the nearest most Lib Dem events get to ‘security’ is a quick look through a handbag by an enthusiastic volunteer.
Sometimes they are elderly members who worked at Bletchley Park, but they are increasingly rare.
One such event during the 2001 General Election was a regional rally at The Floral Hall in Southport.
Members from across the region converged to hear the leader, Charles Kennedy, speak.
As the regional contact for the national party and the Special Branch a lot of the organisation came through me to arrange where Charles would arrive, who was allowed in and anybody that the Special Branch had identified as ‘a potential threat’! It is very easy to assume that these sorts of descriptions are a bit police statish but nonetheless it was my responsibility to check that people were who they said they were and that they were allowed access if the police had any concerns about them.
Once ‘Liberty’ was delivered by car to the back entrance of the meeting, and was safely delivered to the green room, it afforded the staff and police to have a chat and briefly check any photos or names against people to see if there were any known problems attending.
Over the radio of the policeman with me came a troubling message that someone was insisting on seeing Charles and a minor alert ensued to check the credentials of the person to see that they were bona fide and that this was not a problem. There was no problem and the person, with police minder, was allowed to have a brief chat with Charles about a casework matter.
As the event began I and a couple of other members of staff and one of the Special Branch officers sat down outside in a lovely spring evening for a cup of coffee and a chat about the next event which they would need to liaise over when Charles was next in the North West.
Through the crackle of the officer’s walkie talky came, ‘Is John there?’ The officer replied that I was. ‘Tell him that a naked man has stormed the stage and he may need to sort it out!’
After a moment of contemplation about this rude interruption I asked if the policeman had a helmet I could borrow. He did not.
A few minutes later several Lib Dem stewards had removed the gentleman from the hall and re-clothed him. Charles dealt with it brilliantly saying, ‘that reminds me that I should never go naked into the conference chamber.’
I commented to the police officer, ‘what a lot of fuss over a little thing like that!’