Boateng to return from his post in South Africa

High Commissioner's wife had been accused of bullying staff at official residences
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Indy Politics

Paul Boateng, the former Cabinet minister and one-time rising star of the Labour Party, is to return from his post as Britain's High Commissioner to South Africa after allegations that staff at his luxury official residences were bullied.

The 58-year-old barrister, who became the first black member of the Cabinet, took up the appointment four years ago in a move hailed at the time as a significant shake up for the professionalised and largely white, public-school educated diplomatic corps.

But the breakthrough for Mr Boateng, who abruptly stepped down as Chief Secretary to the Treasury to take up the newly created post of Britain's envoy to South Africa with residences in Cape Town and Pretoria, was tarnished when claims of bullying were levelled against his wife, Janet, 52, a former social worker and Labour councillor.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) confirmed last November that it was investigating the allegations that Mrs Boateng had verbally bullied black cooks, gardeners and cleaning staff at the sprawling mansions. The estate manager at the Cape Town residence, a sumptuous thatched bungalow with nine bedrooms, floodlit tennis courts and a heated swimming pool used to host official receptions, claimed that employees were described as "lazy" and Mrs Boateng insisted on being addressed as "madam".

The FCO, which insisted the bullying claims were an "internal personnel matter" and that Mr Boateng's period of office would not be affected, refused to discuss his return. A spokesman said yesterday: "We do not discuss diplomatic appointments."

Mr Boateng will be replaced next month by Nicola Brewer, a former FCO highflier who unexpectedly resigned as chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission two weeks ago after suggesting that companies should not be required to carry out equal pay reviews during the recession.

Mrs Brewer, who is married to a diplomat, denied she was stepping down because of the remarks, saying that she had instead been offered an undisclosed job which she described as "irresistible".

Although High Commissioners can stay in post for up to six years, it is not known whether Mr Boateng is returning to London prematurely.

There were raised eyebrows in Whitehall when the politician was asked by Tony Blair to take up the diplomatic posting despite having no experience in Africa or the FCO. The one-time voluble left-winger built a close relationship with his host nation's ANC government, provoking concern that he did not do enough to publicly express dissatisfaction with President Thabo Mbeki's dismissal of the Aids epidemic and his conciliatory stance when dealing with President Robert Mugabe.

Although talk of Mr Boateng as a potential future Labour leader has disappeared, a seat in the House of Lords may await him on his return.