Leading article: A bad temper should not be confused with bullying

The criticisms of the Prime Minister's behaviour have been exaggerated
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The Independent Online

Recent revelations certainly paint an unappealing picture of daily life in Downing Street under the Premiership of Gordon Brown We have heard tales of a short-tempered Prime Minister, who sometimes shouts, swears and generally stomps around like a bear with a sore head. There have been reports of staff being bawled at, sometimes unfairly, and even, on a couple of occasions, senior advisers being grabbed and shoved aside.

Yet it is important to remember what has not been included in this unflattering picture. No allegations have been made of Mr Brown striking anyone, or throwing mobile phones at staff, despite rumours in recent months that such incendiary charges were about to be levelled at the Prime Minister. And there have been no reports or complaints of systematic persecution of individuals working in Number 10.

Mr Brown stands accused of uncivilised and unbecoming behaviour, but not malicious, and certainly not criminal, behaviour. Unpleasant though it might be, this is not what most people would consider to be bullying. All of which makes the intervention of Christine Pratt, of the National Bullying Helpline, look rather strange.

At the weekend Ms Pratt claimed that staff from Downing Street had contacted her organisation. This prompted the Conservatives yesterday to call for an official investigation into what has taken place. Ms Pratt says she "saw red" after ministers rallied around the Prime Minister at the weekend and contradicted some of the allegations. But Ms Pratt admits herself that she has no evidence that Mr Brown bullied staff; and nor, apparently, has she heard any allegations to that effect. In which case, one wonders about the wisdom of her decision to go public, especially bearing in mind her duty of confidentiality to those who contact her organisation. Several of the patrons of Ms Pratt's charity felt strongly enough about this breach of confidence to resign yesterday.

Bullying is a deplorable phenomenon in any workplace, and Downing Street is no exception. But there is a difference – perhaps a relatively fine one, but a difference nonetheless – between a boss with a bad temper and a boss who is a bully. There is no evidence that Mr Brown has crossed that line. And it therefore seems unwise for the opposition parties to add fuel to this story by demanding further inquiries.

That is not to say that this weekend's revelations do not raise questions about Mr Brown's character. But the temper tantrums should be less cause for public concern than the reports that the Prime Minister's aides engaged in poisonous briefings against fellow Cabinet ministers. The Downing Street bellowing is less alarming than the revelation that the Prime Minister initially misjudged the seriousness of the financial crisis. Mr Brown's raging is less troubling than the image of a leader who is unable to delegate responsibility.

It is legitimate for voters to consider Mr Brown's character when they cast their votes in the forthcoming general election, not least because the Prime Minister has sought to make it an issue. But questions of personality should really be balanced by some appreciation of the serious policy choices that face Britain. And, just as importantly, Mr Brown should not be pilloried for crimes that he has not committed.