Sunday 26 January 2020

Brown's even a loser in the toughnut poll

This week, not one, but three biographers of Gordon Brown have branded Britain's Prime Minister a bully. He's been accused of volcanic rages, extraordinary flashes of anger, foul-mouthed rants and fits of mobile-phone flinging. It's claimed that he "roughly shoved" one aide, and peevishly took over the typing from a "slow" secretary.

The Tories want a public inquiry into an alleged bullying culture at Downing Street, with the National Bullying Helpline confirming that several staff there had made contact.

Asked if bullies naturally gravitate toward leadership roles, Murray Smith of the Anti-Bullying Centre at TCD says there is insufficient research to say conclusively. He adds, however, that bullies flourish in situations "where people are afraid, or where they do nothing because they've too much personally riding on a situation".

The research may not exist, but there is abundant evidence to suggest that tough-nuts and control freaks colonise the top ranks of politics.

In 2005, Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, was branded "nothing but a bully" by one of his own MPs after 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang was manhandled from the Labour Party Conference for criticising the Iraq War, and detained as a suspected terrorist.

Blair rarely let his Bambi mask slip, but gave free rein to Alastair Campbell to act as his feared enforcer. The rottweiler spindoctor provided the inspiration for the hideous Malcolm Tucker in the BBC spoof The Thick Of It. The Campbell character's job was to keep MPs in line, supervise crisis management and smear the PM's enemies.

The Labour PM before Blair, Jim Callaghan, was notorious for his fiery temper and Margaret Thatcher, who ousted him, was already known as 'Thatcher the milk-snatcher' for cutting free school milk.

The Iron Lady's tyrannical rule over her cabinet was nailed by the Spitting Image TV sketch in which she orders dinner from a waiter, who asks: "And what about the vegetables?" She replies: "Oh, they'll have the same as me."

Winston Churchill was such a bully to aides that his wife asked him to tone down his "rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner".

His successor, Anthony Eden, regularly exploded into prescription drug-fuelled hissy-fits, smashing up the No 10 furniture. But the PMs are in the halfpenny place compared with the presidents.

Former US president Lyndon B Johnson was notorious for his White House tantrums, and for his sexual bullying. LBJ allegedly climbed into the bed of one napping secretary, telling her: "Move over honey, your president needs you."

He, though, was a pushover compared with the most infamous bully to occupy the Oval Office -- Richard Nixon, who was notorious for his Enemies Lists. Those featured were to be harassed "by the available federal machinery", in the form of tax audits, lawsuits, and the denial of grants and contracts. The stated object was "to screw our political enemies".

Pint-sized French President Nicolas Sarkozy, nicknamed 'Bonaparte in a suit', is such a control-freak that on one factory visit he stipulated that only short workers could surround him.

Italy's PM Silvio Berlusconi, dubbed 'The bully of the Med', sealed his dark reputation when he stated "Mussolini never killed anyone" and claimed the murderous, fascist dictator merely "sent people on holiday to confine them".

Here, Eamon de Valera's enemies routinely called him a dictator, and he ruled Fianna Fail with an iron fist.

While no one would accuse Taoisigh John Bruton, Albert Reynolds or Brian Cowen of bullying, they've showed their spiky sides. Bruton snapped at a reporter: "I'm sick of answering questions about the f**king peace process."

Cowen has been labelled 'Oscar the Grouch'. Reynolds' first act as Taoiseach in 1992 was to axe 17 full and junior ministers.

His successor, CJ Haughey, was a fearsome bully who fantasised on tape about slitting his enemies' throats and shoving them off a cliff. He bugged journalists. Declared enemies within FF including Seamus Brennan and Mary Harney received obscene phone calls. Leadership rival George Colley used phone boxes rather than his bugged office line. After one failed heave, Jim Gibbons was beaten up in Leinster House.

Even as a political bully, it seems Gordon Brown is a mediocrity.

Irish Independent

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