Downing Street staff urged to speak out over bullying
Charity founder accused of fuelling row for publicity stunt
Published 23/02/2010 | 05:00
DOWNING Street's top civil servant made an extraordinary plea to staff yesterday to come forward if they had been bullied.
Jeremy Heywood urged them to report any cases of harassment or intimidation as the row over Gordon Brown's behaviour towards officials paralysed the centre of government.
Labour's plans to build on its recent recovery in the polls were thrown into crisis by the disclosure by the head of an anti-bullying charity that she had received worried calls from Downing Street staff.
But she was also thrown on the defensive yesterday by accusations from Labour that she was acting politically and charges from other charities that she had breached the confidentiality of bullying victims.
Last night all of the charity's five patrons, including former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe, resigned.
The turmoil was sparked by allegations on Sunday in a book by journalist Andrew Rawnsley about Mr Brown's intimidating behaviour towards staff.
Downing Street vehemently denied the accusations and believed it had the story under control until the intervention of Christine Pratt, the founder of the National Bullying Helpline.
She disclosed she had taken "three or four" calls from Downing Street staff upset about their treatment working there.
Lord Mandelson blamed the Tories for stoking up the row, while the former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott claimed she was attempting "a publicity stunt for her company".
Mrs Pratt denied being driven by political motives.
But Labour was provided ammunition in its attempts to undermine her credibility when she amended her version of events, saying her helpline had received "two (calls) from the deputy prime minister's office and another two or more from the PM's office".
Mrs Pratt also acknowledged that none of the calls referred to claims of bullying by Mr Brown himself.
His spokesman said the number of complaints about bullying within the Cabinet Office, which includes Downing Street, was "very low" and below average for the Civil Service.
As the row raged, Mr Heywood, the Downing Street Permanent Secretary, sent an email to all staff, reminding them of the procedures in place if any of them should have concerns about bullying.
He wrote: "I don't believe for a moment that there is a culture of bullying and intimidation in No 10."
The spokesman said the email was "an encouragement" to staff that there were procedures in place.
The Conservatives said it was the "default position of the Downing Street machine to smear the messenger, as they have done so many times".
David Cameron, the Tory leader, and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, both called for an inquiry into the bullying claims. Downing Street responded that there was no need for an investigation.
Mr Cameron said: "These are very serious matters.
"I'm sure No 10 Downing Street and the Civil Service in some way will want to have some sort of inquiry to get to the bottom of what has happened here,"Mr Cameron added last night. (© Independent News Service)