Bullying Row: Tory MP Resigns From Charity
Ann Widdecombe has resigned as patron of the National Bullying Helpline following allegations of a culture of bullying in Downing Street.
It means four patrons of the charity are now believed have stepped down after its founder claimed "three or four" Number 10 staff had called her helpline for advice.
Christine Pratt said she did not know if the phone calls related to the Prime Minister's own behaviour but said she had since received an email making allegations against him.
"I have personally taken a call from staff in the Prime Minister's office, staff who believe they are working in a bullying culture and that it has caused them some stress," she said.
"I am not saying Gordon Brown is a bully, I am not a judge. But I am appalled at the outright denial that is going on without due process being followed."
According to journalist Andrew Rawnsley, the Prime Minister received a "verbal warning" about his temper, a claim he has denied.
Ms Widdecombe has resigned
In an interview with the Economist, Mr Brown said: "The cabinet secretary has made it clear that he's had no inquiries, there's been no reprimand, there's been no private message to me.
"[The] story is completely wrong."
The Tory MP is the latest patron to step down from the charity following workplace stress expert Professor Cary Cooper, TV presenter Sarah Cawood and, according to the FT, Hillingdon Councillor Mary O'Connor.
In a statement, Ms Cawood said: "In light of the recent events where confidential phone calls were made public, I feel it is no longer a campaign with which I would like my name to be associated."
Mrs Pratt has responded to Ms Cawood's resignation saying she is "very disappointed" at a lack of support from the presenter.
"Her role as a patron has been disappointing and she has not got involved in spite of making many promises," she said.
"Appointing her as a patron was with hindsight a mistake."
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both suggested there should be an investigation after claims of a culture of bullying at Number 10 were made in a new book and by the founder of an anti-bullying helpline.
But Downing Street said it had never been contacted by the hotline and the head of the civil service said there was no need for an inquiry.
The Prime Minister's official spokeman said: "The Cabinet Secretary, Gus O'Donnell, would like to make it clear that he has never raised concerns with the Prime Minister about him acting in a bullying or intimidatory manner in relation to Number 10, let alone giving him any sort of verbal warning."
He also told political journalists there had been no complaints against the Prime Minister through the internal complaints procedure.
Lord Mandelson said there was "zero tolerance" of bullying across the Government and dismissed the row as a politically motivated "storm in a teacup".
"I even gather that Conservative Party press officers were active yesterday (on Sunday), guiding journalists towards Mrs Pratt, assuming that she had some fuel to throw on this fire," he said.
Mrs Pratt, who has been criticised for breaching the confidentiality of callers, has denied she had a political agenda.
The Conservatives denied Lord Mandelson's suggestion they had helped stoke the row.
"This is the default position of the Downing Street machine - to smear the messenger as they have done so many times before," a spokesman said.
"Serious allegations of bullying within Downing Street have been made by both Andrew Rawnsley and Mrs Pratt. Instead of addressing them, they are dismissing Mrs Pratt as a Tory party stooge. She is not.
"Now Peter Mandelson claims that Mrs Pratt was 'guided by some Tory Party press officer'. She was not.
"There is a simple way for Gordon Brown to clear up these serious allegations, that is by instructing Sir Phillip Mawer (the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards) to investigate whether any breach of the Ministerial Code has taken place."
Mr Brown has not commented on the latest claims but gave a speech to business leaders at a global investment conference.
Staff at Downing Street have received an email from senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood reminding them of procedures for reporting their concerns, but emphasising he does not believe there is a culture of bullying in Government.
Bully? Maybe ... but victim? Definitely
Victimised ... Gordon Brown is an easy target
SO the word is that Downing Street is mired in a culture of bullying.
Aggression, violence, four-letter rants. Gordon Brown's been accused of using them all and more to try and keep control of a floundering ship.
And it may well be proved that, yes, he's turned out to be the short-fused, vindictive, foul-mouthed boss his enemies gleefully paint him as.
But let me say this in his defence.
As a nation, we've no cause to scold. Because if he's been a rotten b****** to his staff, we've been every bit as big a bunch of rotten b******s to him.
Because in my book, Gordon Brown himself has been aVICTIM of bullying throughout his time as PM.
In fact, I'd go further and state that this country has never treated a leader as unkindly as we do him.
Thatcher and Blair were hated by many and satirised by others, but both managed to at least convey an air of being respected for their strength and beliefs.
Major had the p*** ripped out of him left, right and centre, but it somehow always seemed affectionate, like he was some kind of special needs politician.
But Brown? Oh yes, he gets plenty of the hatred and the satire and the p***-ripping.
But there's about as much chance of him being shown respect and affection as there is of him winning a calligraphy prize. See? There we go again. Cheap jibe, easy target.
The poor guy gets it tight in columns like this, on comedy panel games, in offices and pubs and millions of homes.
The length and breadth of Britain, we ridicule Brown not for what he does, but for what he IS.
The dead eye that leads to the marker-pen scrawl. The saggy clothes, the saggy chops. The way his hair never seems to sit right, the way his jaw clicks in the middle of sentences.
Everything, right down to where he comes from and how he was brought up.
And ask any schoolkid who's ever been picked on for being ginger or tubby or smelly or spotty, all of the above are forms of bullying.
Sure, we don't see it that way because... well, he's a politician, eh? He knew what he was getting himself into when he took the gig. He's fair game, etc.
That's clearly what an artist called Louis Sidoli thinks, as he's just produced a poster of him done up as Hitler and claims the pair have similar qualities.
As for those within politics?
Blair jerked him around on a string for a decade. Blair's buddies have made life as awkward as possible ever since the leadership was handed over.
Jack Straw's been outed for trying lead a coup just a year into Brown's leadership. This election campaign was kicked off with another abortive attempt to unseat him.
Tory chief Dave Cameron's called for an urgent inquiry, while the Lib Dems are tut-tutting over this treatment of helpless people - not bad from the party who deposed Charles Kennedy for liking a half.
Even wee Willie Hague's had a pop, claiming Brown's "not cut out" for top office. Which is like Alan Carr bitching that Julian Clary's not cut out for rugby league.
As it goes, I don't think Brown has what it takes to lead the country either. But that doesn't make him a bad person.
Is he a bully?
Well, were I to play amateur psychologist, my guess would be that he's basically a quiet and honest man whose ambitions have outreached his abilities and who cannot handle the ruthless, pressure-cooker world he finds himself trapped in.
If that manifests itself in his temper getting the better of him, in physical or verbal outbursts, then that's something he has to deal with.
Either he works on it or he gets the hell out to preserve his sanity.
Personally, I'd take the latter option. Because there's absolutely no sign that the pressure will ever let up.
The economy will remain in crisis. The opposition will keep on baiting him. He'll never stop believing those within his own party have it in for him.
And even if he brought about world peace and cured cancer, that quirky, cartoonish personality of his will always make him a target for the kind of ridicule he'll never be able to cope with.
As for Christine Pratt, the National Bullying Helpline founder who went public over those allegations of Brown abusing his staff?
Shame on her.
She's not only abused the trust of those who made the complaints and of the PM himself, but of anyone who has ever or might ever contact her organisation. Their website states: "We never share your details with anyone else. All correspondence is confidential."
What a sick joke THAT is.
One patron of the charity has already quit and now pressure is mounting on Pratt to do the same. Ironic, isn't it, that she herself may be about to find out how much bullying can hurt?