CONSERVATIVE leader David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat counterpart, Nick Clegg, both called on 10 Downing Street yesterday to look into allegations of bullying of staff.
Their calls were sparked by claims from the founder of an anti-bullying charity that her helpline had received calls from Downing Street staff complaining of the way they were treated.
First Secretary Peter Mandelson dismissed calls for an inquiry, claiming they were part of a “political operation” to undermine Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Mandelson accused Conservative press officers of guiding journalists towards National Bullying Helpline founder Christine Pratt in the assumption that she had “some fuel to throw on this fire”.
He was accused in turn by the Conservatives of trying to “smear” Pratt by wrongly portraying her as a political stooge.
Downing Street insisted that there was a “zero tolerance” approach to bullying in the civil service, and that there were no grievance procedures under way in relation to Number 10 or the Cabinet Office at present.
Pratt spoke out following the publication of extracts of a book by Andrew Rawnsley that included accounts of Brown pulling a secretary from her chair, “roughly shoving” an aide, and four-letter-word rants that frightened staff.
She said she “saw red” after Mandelson issued a categorical denial of bullying in Brown’s office.
The helpline had received two calls from the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office and two or more from Number 10, she said. However, she acknowledged that none referred to claims of bullying by Brown himself.
“Absolutely not, and nor have we said that Gordon Brown is a bully,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Our concern here is the public statement from No 10 of denial . . . we would just want Gordon Brown and No 10 to lead by example.”
Pratt’s decision to go public with the complaints sparked protests from other anti-bullying campaigners.
Professor Cary Cooper, an expert on workplace stress, quit as a patron of theNational Bullying Helpline, saying: “I am resigning now on the grounds that I think she breached confidentiality.”
The director of the charity, Bullying UK, Liz Carnell, said she was “horrified” by Pratt’s move and was complaining to the Charity Commission.
“Gordon Brown’s office is small and the National Bullying Helpline’s comment will almost certainly identify this person who turned to the helpline in despair. We suggest Mrs Pratt considers her position, given the damage she has caused to theanti-bullying sector, where confidentiality is paramount.”
The Charity Commission said it had received a number of complaints about the National Bullying Helpline over the weekend and was considering whether they fell into its remit.
Cameron called yesterday for an inquiry into the bullying allegations by Philip Mawer, who polices the ministerial code.
At an event in London, the Tory leader said: “These are very serious matters. I’m sure that Number 10 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. To me, all of this just says we need to get on, have a general election and have a fresh start.”
Mandelson said there had been no actual evidence of bullying at Number 10 and it would not be tolerated if it were to take place.
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