Brown bullying row a bad example to senior leaders

Britain's highest-profile leader allegedly drove some of his staff to bullying helplines. Not a great example...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Just when it seemed as though Gordon Brown was making a few inroads into the Tories’ long-held lead at the polls, along comes a story that paints him in a rather unflattering light: a new book by the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley claims that the Prime Minister’s behaviour to his staff was so abusive that it earned him a reprimand from the head of the civil service – while the National Bullying Helpline has alleged that some of the PM’s staff have called them for support. Now the Government seems to be trying to brush over the whole thing. Whichever way you look at it, that's not exactly setting a great example to the rest of UK plc…

The initial allegations came in Rawnsley’s new book, 'The End of the Party', which charts Labour’s second and third terms in power. And the picture it paints of Brown isn’t a pleasant one: Rawnsley suggests that his ‘conduct towards colleagues and staff has at times been so appalling that it raises a question mark about his fitness to hold his great office’. There are all sorts of colourful stories in there, including tales of him shoving colleagues, punching and stabbing car seats, and launching various foul-mouthed tirades. Number Ten has described them as ‘malicious allegations… totally without foundation’- but Rawnsley insists his sources are ‘24 carat’.

Of course you might argue that he would say that – he has a book to sell. But perhaps even more damaging is that after Lord Mandelson denied the claims on TV yesterday, National Bullying Helpline boss Christine Pratt told the BBC they’d had ‘several inquiries from staff within Gordon Brown's office’. She’s already attracted some flak for compromising the confidentiality of her callers, while Labour supporters are already questioning whether she’s politically motivated. But she insists the NBH is non-partisan; keeping mum would have sent the wrong message to other bosses accused of bullying, she said, and suggested that an investigation would be better than outright denial.

Recently, the PM - during his PR charm offensive to show what a good bloke he is, with a little help from Piers Morgan - has claimed that his rough edges are due to his determination to get the job done; the suggestion being that this is an integral part of his leadership skills. But we’re sceptical about this. The Thinking Partnership’s MD Graham Lee says that impatience and aggressive behaviour can in fact point to poor ‘self-regulation’ in leaders – and that this kind of restraint is ‘a key factor in decisiveness and enabling groups of leaders to work effectively together.’

Either way, this isn’t the kind of leadership style we want to be seeing among senior leaders. So given the high profile of this case, the Government shouldn’t be trying to cover it up: it needs to treat these allegations with the seriousness they merit, as a demonstration that any kind of bullying in the workplace isn’t acceptable.

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