Politicians prepare to mix business with pleasure at London Olympics


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It is a tough job but, as they say, somebody has to do it. More than 60 ministers and MPs have been drafted in to act as escorts for foreign VIPs coming to watch the Olympics, The Independent has learnt.

From the 1964 Olympics athlete Sir Menzies Campbell to the Climate Secretary Ed Davey, who has been given responsibility for a Korean delegation, dozens of parliamentarians will get free tickets to some of the most sought-after events.

But in return for great seats, they will be expected to use their "face time" with foreign businessmen and political leaders to relentlessly drum up business for UK Plc.

They will also be expected to be on hand to man the VIP "drop-in" centre near the Olympic Park where dignitaries attending the games will be taken.

The Government has spent nearly £750,000 buying 8,815 tickets for the Olympics including 213 for the Opening Ceremony 143 for the Closing Ceremony, and 257 athletics tickets. Nearly £30,000 has been spent on diving tickets and a further £26,600 went on 411 tickets for the beach volleyball.

Most of the tickets have been handed out to business and political leaders from around the world as part of an unprecedented charm offensive to try to win orders for British business. But some have been reserved for the ambassadors who will be on hand to meet the guests, accompany them to the events and wine and dine them afterwards.

Last night the Government was being tight-lipped about exactly which MPs would be becoming ambassadors but The Independent understands that it includes cabinet ministers and some MPs who only entered Parliament two years ago.

The new Dorset MP Richard Drax has been tasked (rain or shine) with representing the Government at sailing events in Weymouth.

He said: "I've booked to look after people at several events already and I imagine there will be more as we get closer.

"I'll be thoroughly charming, hold their hand at the events and ask them to buy British," he joked.

Therese Coffey, who was also elected in 2010, will be carrying the baton for the Government at the gymnastics and has been also been entrusted with a meet-and-greet session at the hospitality centre.

Ms Coffey said she was still waiting to find out exactly what was expected of her but confirmed she would be taking part.

"We are all volunteers and some people are doing more than others," she said. "At the moment I'm down to do a gymnastics event and a session at the hospitality centre. It may be that I end up doing more but nothing has been finalised yet."

Other MPs and ministers taking part include the Communities minister Greg Clark, the shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham and the former Labour Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

On Monday night all the government ambassadors attended a final briefing session with the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who outlined exactly what would be expected of them.

In a statement a government spokesman said: "We have invited a number of ministers and parliamentarians to act as government ambassadors during the Games.

"Their role will be to host guests of Government at events both on and off the Park as part of our drive to showcase London and the UK, promote economic growth and support Team GB. We are in the final stages of confirming the appointment of ambassadors."