It is instructive to read the foreword to the ministerial code.
“To fulfil this mission and win back the trust of the British people we must now uphold the very highest standards of propriety, and this code sets it out. Now we must do it.
There must be no bullying and no harassment......”
And who signed this perfectly sensible no if no buts commitment to ‘win back the trust’ of the British people?
We know that report by the independent senior civil servant responsible for advising the Prime Minister (and other Prime Ministers) on these matters, Sir Alex Allan, concluded that Priti Patel had breached the ministerial code. Of course, advisers advise and ministers decide. And the Prime Minister has decided to overrule Sir Alex after trying to persuade him to water his report down. Honourably, Sir Alex resigned as his position had become untenable.
It may be helpful to directly quote Sir Alex,
‘My advice is that she has not consistently met the the high standard required by the ministerial code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect.....her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that end her behaviour has been in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally’.
I find Johnson’s macho Bullingdonesq support of Patel, ‘form a square round the Pritster’ borders on the politically deranged. Until only a week ago Number 10 has been run by a bullying macho gang of cronies under Cummings. We were promised a relaunch not the same old same old.
And what a message it sends out in National Anti Bullying week. If you are strong and powerful and part of my gang you can do what you like. One rule for us and another for you.
This will not go away. The decision has been condemned by former cabinet secretaries and most importantly Lord Evans, former head of MI5 and now head of the Parliamentary Standards Authority. He will conduct another investigation. The Sundays will be full of those who had been belittled and bullied by the Pritster and Starmer will have yet another foothold on the moral high ground. I can’t wait to read Tim Shipman’s insider analysis.
So twice this week ministers and backbenchers have had to line up and clear up the Prime Minister’s mess. The ‘devolution has been a disaster’ fiasco and Priti Patel. Squandering what is left of his political capital twice in a week is reckless rather than careless.
What I don’t understand is why he has made such a sacrifice to save a minister who even at their most generous insiders would consider to be barely adequate. Someone who would be considered fortunate to be Mayor of Blackpool in a bad year.
In many ways it is the self awareness of her mediocrity that probably makes her over compensate a d lash out. I have found that bullying and hectoring judges (they do exist) were often not very good at the bar or uncomfortable in their own skins. Often both. So they sort out their inadequacy with a hectoring manner, constant interruptions downright rudery sometimes making advocates cower in humiliation They won’t try it with me because I have been around a very long time and bite back. Junior members of the bar, particularly women, have their lives made a total misery by these abominations on the bench. And there tends to be a new breed of them slithering into judicial office. But that is a blog for another day.
For all those tribalists who are mouthing the mantra that she is ‘doing a tough job in a hostile environment with back stabbing civil servants so give her a bit of slack’, remember that this investigation is not just limited to the Home Office. These allegations have been following her around like a fart in a space suit.
The toughest job in government at the moment is Health and Social Care. Has anyone accused Matt Hancock of being a bully? Of course not. DWP is pretty tough too. Has anyone accused Therese Coffey of being a bully? Don’t be daft. Or anyone else in government?
Some of us have warned about Patel’s behaviour for a very long time, only to be met with ‘it’s all civil servant lies who are trying to prevent her from doing the job she was elected to do’. Of course, she won’t last. It’s just a question of when she goes.
But spare a thought for those who are being humiliated, harassed and bullied at work, at school, in the media and even in some courts. Whose life is made a misery, a living hell. Who dread going to work or school or court or look at social media. Some will muddle through but loath every waking moment of their existence. Some will be on sick leave. Some will be on medication. Some will even blame themselves. Some tragically will take their lives. The rest will be scarred for life. And this is why all of us take bullying so seriously and demand that there is a zero tolerance towards it.
That is why the message from Downing Street is so corrosive, so selfish, so utterly abhorrent. The jolly message of ‘form a square round the Pritster’ is a rather sinister message that we are governed by laarger louts.
And I thought that we could sink no further.