'Bully' Brown reeling as staff call distress hotline
Charity demands investigation into complaints after PM's denial
Published 22/02/2010 | 05:00
An anti-bullying charity disclosed yesterday that several Downing Street employees had called its helpline asking for advice and counselling, as the row over Gordon Brown's treatment of his staff took an extraordinary turn.
Christine Pratt, the founder of the National Bullying Helpline, said it had received "three or four" calls in recent months from staff in the British prime minister's office.
She said she had spoken personally to at least one of the callers, who complained of a "bullying culture" and of the "stress" it caused.
Mrs Pratt added that she was "appalled" by Downing Street's "outright denial" of the allegations yesterday as she called for an investigation.
She said the government's attempt to dismiss the claims would only "compound the stress of those who believe they are being bullied".
Her extraordinary intervention came after senior ministers tried to counter damaging allegations about Mr Brown's behaviour and treatment of his staff in a new book.
The book, by the political commentator Andrew Rawnsley, claimed the prime minister's volatile temper, foul-mouthed abuse of staff and outbreaks of physical violence had left civil servants and aides "frightened and bruised''.
Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, led Downing Street's attempt to rebuff the allegations. He insisted that Mr Brown was not a bully, and that he was only "impatient" and "demanding" of his staff.
The Conservatives said the Mrs Pratt's disclosures suggested a "government cover-up" over Mr Brown's behaviour.
The row comes only days after Mr Brown attempted to make his character an asset in the general election by giving an emotional interview on ITV, in which he discussed his children and his marriage at length. It also overshadowed the launch of Labour's general election campaign on Saturday, when Mr Brown asked voters to "take a second look" at his party.
In denying the bullying claims, ministers attempted to make a virtue of the prime minister's personality.
However, Mrs Pratt said: "Staff in his office have issues and have concerns and have contacted our helpline.
"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. We would have hoped Gordon Brown would lead by example. If an employer receives complaints they should investigate.
"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." Mrs Pratt claimed that by dismissing the reports of bullying, No 10 could be breaching employment law.
"If an employer receives any allegation that there is a culture of bullying or stress, they have a legal obligation to investigate. It appears that due process is not being followed here."
Many of the revelations about Mr Brown's behaviour had been rumoured at Westminster for years, but they were formally published for the first time in a book by Mr Rawnsley, serialised in a Sunday newspaper.
The book suggested that on several occasions, Mr Brown's anger led to physical violence against Downing Street staff.
The book also claimed that Mr Brown's treatment of Downing Street officials was so bad that Sir Gus O'Donnell, the head of the Civil Service, felt moved to investigate staff concerns.
It was reported that having heard from several "frightened" and "bruised" officials, Sir Gus privately raised Mr Brown's conduct with the prime minister, telling him: "This is no way to get things done." Mr Rawnsley said he based his report on the eyewitness accounts of many officials and politicians.
No 10 denied there had been any incidents of violence against staff and described the allegations as "malicious". (© Daily Telegraph, London)