Bullying row charity chief 'a prat'

The charity boss at the centre of the Gordon Brown bullying row was dismissed today as "this prat of a woman" by a Government minister.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said claims made by Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline, about receiving complaints from inside No 10, were backfiring on her.

Mr Woolas's comments came as the Prime Minister tried to draw a line under the affair with a business-as-usual speech on education.

The immigration minister told Nick Ferrari on LBC 97.3: "It's a tough business, politics. It's 18, 20 hours a day that people like the Prime Minister work.

"I think this attack on him by this prat of a woman down in - where's she from, Swindon? - I think that's backfiring on her.

"Most people think that Gordon Brown, even if they don't agree with his politics, they think that he's a decent man and I can tell you in my experience, he's a very decent man."

The National Bullying Helpline, based in Swindon, has been thrown into chaos after all its patrons quit in protest at Mrs Pratt going public with her allegations.

Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, TV presenter Sarah Cawood and stress expert Professor Cary Cooper all severed ties with the National Bullying Helpline after criticising Mrs Pratt for breaching confidentiality. Tory councillor for Hillingdon Mary O'Connor also reportedly resigned.

Mr Brown described accounts of his behaviour in a book by journalist Andrew Rawnsley as "wrong" and said Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell had not admonished him.

Mr Brown's wife Sarah spoke out in his defence, telling GMTV that "what you see is what you get" with her husband.

She said: "Gordon's the man that I know and the man that I love. People have heard me talk about him and they probably know everything that I would have to say about him. I know him as a strong, hard-working, decent man and he isn't anything else. What you see is what you get with him."

Mr Brown's close Cabinet ally, Ed Balls, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I've known Gordon Brown for 20 years and at no point has it ever occurred to me that Gordon Brown is or would ever be a bully.

"I know it is something which personally he feels very upset about because he knows there is no truth to these allegations. In fact, Andrew Rawnsley's book - despite its narrative truth - turns out on every one of these allegations to be incorrect.

"I don't think it damages him. It hurts him personally.

"If you said to the public 'What do you think of Gordon Brown?', they would say he is tough, they would sometimes be frustrated by the way he speaks on television.

"I have never heard a single constituent say Gordon Brown is a bully. They would say he gets things done, he is tough, he is a leader, and that's what we need."

But Mr Rawnsley said he was standing by his account of Mr Brown's behaviour in No 10.

He told BBC Newsnight last night: "What they have not denied on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary is that he had a conversation with the Prime Minister about his behaviour... one person's idea of a verbal warning could be another person's private word."

Mr Rawnsley's book includes accounts of Mr Brown allegedly pulling a secretary from her chair, "roughly shoving" an aide, and four-letter-word rants that frightened staff.

Mrs Pratt has insisted she did not breach confidentiality by going public with her comments and said she felt "slightly intimidated" by some of the reaction to her allegations.

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