I will begin this blog by making it absolutely clear that complaints about sexual assault and harassment must be investigated fully, and charges brought where guilt is proven, but I do want to put something up for your consideration and comment.
Two years ago I advertised for an intern. We have had several interns over the years, and we treat them fairly. We pay our interns, give them a lunch allowance and also travel costs, and ask them to undertake really useful work, which develops their political, campaigning and interpersonal skills. What's more, each one has been supported and developed to a point where they have gone on to secure full time positions in Westminster. One went to work for Tracey Crouch but subsequently came back as our Campaign Assistant now fulfils a vital role in our organisation.
Working in a progressive Conservative Party office, where we use latest campaign technologies, looking after three high profile Members of Parliament and within commuting distance to London, ensures we receive a lot of interest for any position offered. And so it was two years ago when we last advertised.
One particular application stood out from the rest. He had recently graduated with a 2:1 in Modern Classics. He had volunteered in a battleground seat during the 2010 GE Campaign and had a great deal of practical experience as an activist in his home constituency prior to going to university. He had also done his homework, he knew and understood what an Association Office was there to achieve, he knew the difference between the work of the Association and that of the the MP, and he made a very strong and coherent case about what he wanted to achieve whilst with us.
Then came a PS at the end of his application. "I am also in the water polo team, and I hope you enjoy the enclosed picture of me in my trunks!!!"
Attached to his application was a cutting from a university magazine showing the applicant dripping wet straight out of the pool and wearing a very revealing pair of lycra shorts. I think it would be fair to see he would have turned many heads in Soho!
The guy had clearly done some 'basic' research (on me as well as the three constituencies I look after); not difficult given I have been openly gay for 20+ years and quite well known in the Party organisation. He clearly thought that enclosing a photograph of himself, tanned, toned and dripping wet, would improve his chances of an interview. Whilst everyone at the office (the boys and the girls) admired the view, he was not invited for an interview (though he probably would have been had the photo not been sent). Despite being a very strong applicant, I was concerned that people would think he as only invited so I could have a better look. My primary concern, however, was I genuinely thought the photograph, whilst showing chutzpah, also demonstrated a lack of judgement, which concerned me.
Now imagine this; a guy who is willing to send a revealing and provocative picture to a potential (gay) employer to try and secure an interview ,probably wouldn't be adverse to using his looks and charm to try to secure promotion or advancement. What if he came for an interview and subsequently wasn't successful, or if he was offered a job, sought advancement but did not achieve it. Then, in a fit of pique, went to the press and claimed I had sexually harassed him. Would anyone believe that a good looking graduate could possible be making false accusations? In the world of trial by media and guilt by implication, I think the court of public opinion would find against me before I had a chance to tell my story. Even if I got that chance, who would be believed?
I don't think this has any similarities with the Lord Rennard allegations, for me the establishment of a pattern of behaviour is the most telling issue, but it does make me think what might have happened and how vulnerable people are to false accusations and instant judgement.