Monday, February 22, 2010

Gordon Brown, Bullying and the suicide of a National Charity

I was shocked like everyone else when the National Bullying Helpline revealed that Downing Street staff had called them. I was initially reluctant to believe that a charity would divulge any information that would compromise anybody that it had helped.

Let's face it, if you had called them and you worked in Downing Street, you might be scared rigid today. Maybe even if you work in Downing Street and you hadn't called them you might be similarly apprehensive about what might greet you behind closed doors.

I found it hard that an organisation would put its credibility and its charitable status at risk for political motivation.

I am more worried than reassured by the interview that NBH chief executive Christine Pratt gave to BBC Breakfast a few minutes ago. THe most damning thing was her refusing to answer a question as to whether she had ever discusssed the calls from Downing Street with the Tory MP who phoned her to congratulate her yesterday or any others.

Ms Pratt said she'd gone public because she was concerned that Downing Street had issued a denial rather than express concern at the bullying allegations and vow to investigate. She may have a point there, but she could have made it without revealing that calls had come from Downing Street.

The charity has a duty of confidentiality to everyone who phones. If they had the permission of their clients to reveal in principle what had been going on that might go in some way to mitigate what they'd done - but if that's the case, why didn't they say? I had wondered if it had been one person who had rung them several times who no longer worked there in which case nobody would be compromised but from Christine Pratt's interview on ITN last night, she said that it was 3 or 4 and identified one by gender which just is not cricket.

I had wondered if what had pushed the charity over the edge was Mandelson's interview on Andrew Marr yesterday, reported by Mark yesterday. I have yet to watch this, but I find what Mark's report, which I trust implicitly, very sinister. When someone says that they "took their medicine like a man" to me that signifies the sort of insidious, nasty, macho bullying culture so often found particularly in traditionally male environments from public school to the Army to the Police. It was absolutely rife in the coal industry.

I tend to take the view that the better you treat your employees, the more you'll get out of them when you need to. I certainly don't cope well in an environment where there's lots of shouting and confrontation. Peter Mandelson, this does not make me any less of a worker than you.

In any high pressure situation, there are going to be times when the atmosphere gets febrile and tempers get lost and things are said that shouldn't be. That's not bullying. It's when that sort of behaviour from someone who wields power becomes the norm.

As far as Downing Street is concerned, I don't think it's any secret that Gordon Brown can be dour and demanding and I certainly wasn't surprised to read of several explosions in yesterday's Observer. Childish this may be, but I was so bemused by the fuss and outrage expressed by Labour tweeters using the Twitter hashtag Rawnsleyrot, that I bought the Observer out of devilment. To be fair, when I read the Rawnlsey revelations, I didn't really read a lot that surprised me. It all amounts to a bit of shouting and one incident of grabbing someone by the lapels. If that's true, then it's one incident too many and needs dealing with.

I think, though, there is enough evidence to deduce that it's a pretty unhealthy working environment for everyone in Downing Street. Long hours and late nights are made bearable if you feel bound by a common purpose to the people you are with, if you feel comfortable to express yourself and are given space to get on with your work. It doesn't sound like Gordon Brown's Downing Street is a place like that.

Also there is more hints of the marginalisation of women within the Brown administration with Brown allegedly wearily telling Peter Mandelson that he couldn't say no to Harriet again over an idea she'd come to. I still hold to my belief that for all its women's sections, the Labour Party is one of the most misogynist, sexist organisations in the country, paying lip service to women's concerns rather than having a sincere belief in equality.

The Tories are using all of this as a great opportunity to have a go at Gordon Brown as well, of course, as an excuse not to talk about policy. They have not much in the way of workable ideas so the more they can undermine the PM's character the better. It's not big and it sure ain't clever.

Of course, we can all remember how much help they were to people who suffered bullying and harassment, sexual or otherwise, during the 18 years they were in power. If you can't recall what they did, then you've got it! We can also all remember how respectful and gracious a boss Margaret Thatcher was, always willing to listen to opposing views.

One person who came to my mind when thinking about hissy fits and temper tantrums was James Carville, the political genius who masterminded Bill Clinton's rise, fall and rise again. He wasn't called the Ragin' Cajun for nothing but US politics would have been much the poorer without his influence over the last 20 years. Yes, you can have "creative temperament" coupled with brilliance, but there also needs to be people around to support the people who happen to be in the wrong place at the time of a meltdown. There are plenty indications out there that Downing Street has failed on that.


KelvinKid said...

I think this is a smear against Brown. He may be a bully or he may just be a difficult and demanding employer prone to tantrums. This "charity's" intervention has proven nothing. Pratt has said that none of the allegations were against Brown personally and the comments on Andrew Reeve's blog and this cast grave doubts on the status of the National Bullying Helpline as anything other than a PR firms's scam.

@Mostly_Grumpy said...

Dour Scotsman, surely not. I don't know the man, but whenever I have seen him interviewed he has always come across as decent aside from any policy differences you may have I think I would prefer an occasional rant to a knife in the back which is what I suspect many others would dole out. I think that on the evidence of the interviews today I'd rather take my chances with the PM than the Bullying Helpline. If Cameron and Clegg are as decent as I believe they are, then they will step forward and say they believe the PM is decent as well. Above all let's remember that the underlying message here is 'buy my book'.


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