Gordon Brown, bullying, and what we've learnt about life at No 10
The IoS guide to sifting fact from fiction in the furore surrounding the Downing Street revelations
Sunday 28 February 2010
1. Gordon Brown really does have a bad temper
Rumours had been swirling around Westminster for months: that the Prime Minister had shoved an aide aside; that he had sworn at officials; was fond of throwing mobile phones across rooms. But extracts from Andrew Rawnsley's The End of the Party put flesh on the bones. The back seat of his prime ministerial Daimler is covered in pen marks inflicted in anger. He grabbed Gavin Kelly, an aide, by the lapels and shouted: "They are out to get me!" He turfed a Downing Street secretary out of her chair because she was typing too slowly.
2. Brown didn't hit anyone
There is no claim in the book that the PM ever did. On the eve of publication of the extracts, the PM told The Independent on Sunday any suggestion that he had hit someone was a "lie", while earlier this month The Mail on Sunday claimed Rawnsley was investigating rumours, denied by No 10, that he had "lashed out". An apparent case of Downing Street pre-empting bad news by denying even worse news, so it wouldn't look as bad.
3. Officers guarding the Prime Minister are a bit wimpy
An aide found himself delivering bad news in the back of the PM's car (see above), according to Rawnsley. Brown became angry, raising his fist; the aide cowered. That is understandable: political advisers are not known for their machismo. But when the PM struck the back of the seat in front of him, the occupant of that seat – his protection officer – flinched. They don't make them like they used to.
4. Gus O'Donnell is almost certainly the source of Andrew Rawnsley's story
Rawnsley said his sources were "24 carat" – including the one who informed him that Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, was forced to give the PM a "pep talk" about his dealings with staff. The Cabinet Office and No 10 issued three statements on this claim – all denying different things to what Rawnsley had reported, but none knocking down the story completely. Finally, on Wednesday, Sir Gus admitted he had discussed with the PM how to get "the best" out of his staff. In other words: a pep talk.
5. Christine Pratt is a bit of a prat
The Observer made no mention of the word "bullying" on the part of the PM. Screaming, shouting, effing and blinding, yes. So Christine Pratt, the chief executive of the National Bullying Helpline charity, put rocket fuel under the story on Sunday when she emailed the BBC to say her office had received several complaints of bullying from staff at No 10. But her story wobbled when she was vague about how many complaints had come in. Most importantly, she apparently breached the confidentiality of the No 10 callers by going public, and four of her patrons resigned.
6. Alistair Darling has had enough of being maligned by No 10
After a frenetic two days, the story was running out of steam by Tuesday. Then the Chancellor did a live interview with Sky News. A second extract from the Rawnsley book revealed that No 10 officials had briefed against Darling after he warned in August 2008 that the economic crisis would be the worst for 60 years. Jeff Randall asked about this, naming Charlie Whelan and Damian McBride as the culprits. Darling said yes, the "forces of hell" had been unleashed against him. He has been unhappy for months about how No 10 – and Ed Balls – have tried to sideline him.
7. You should never cross Maggie Darling
The extract referring to Darling also shone light on his wife, Maggie. Alarmed at leaks from No 10 that he was facing the sack, she is said to have raged: "The fucking cunts are trying to stitch up Alistair! The cunts! I can't believe they're such cunts!" She was also instrumental in persuading her husband to do the interview in which he gave his 60-year warning, and in telling him to refuse to be moved in the last cabinet reshuffle.
8. Charlie Whelan remains a powerful presence at No 10
Darling, in his interview with Sky News, did not mention Whelan or McBride by name but, in a clear reference, said: "My best answer for them is, I am still here, one of them is not." McBride was forced to resign as Brown's chief spin doctor last year after admitting attempting to smear David Cameron and other Tories. Less well known is that Whelan has been back at the heart of No 10 in a major way for some time.
9. People in the Westminster bubble have no idea what is going on in the outside world
So, all in all a pretty bad week for the Prime Minister, then? All this had no impact on the polls. Five successive surveys for YouGov in The Sun put the gap between Tories and Labour on six points – rather too narrow for many Conservatives' liking.
10. Members of the public want their Prime Minister to be tough
In fact, the revelations had an unexpected consequence: people began comparing Brown to Churchill, himself a bit of a brute in Downing Street. The buzz was that it's a good thing the Prime Minister is tough. He has a lot on his plate. The PM has to vent his frustration somehow, doesn't he?
Saturday, 20 Feb Extracts from The End of the Party by Andrew Rawnsley reveal details of Gordon Brown's violent temper. Brown tells the IoS it is a "lie" that he ever hit anyone.
Sunday Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline reveals that her organisation has received "three or four" complaints of bullying from inside No 10.
Monday David Cameron calls for an inquiry into bullying at No 10.
Tuesday Ed Balls says Brown "upset" by bullying claims.
Wednesday National Bullying Helpline is suspended.
Thursday Charity Commission launches inquiry into the helpline.
Friday Alistair Darling stands by "forces of hell" claims.
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