The unintentional bully

The unintentional bully

 Many political scandals are “too wordy to explain”, said Tom Peck in The Independent. “Not this one.” Back in March, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, was accused of bullying her staff. The claims were investigated by the adviser on ministerial standards, Sir Alex Allan, who found that she did indeed bully her civil servants, “including some occasions of shouting and swearing” – and so was in breach of the ministerial code. Even so, Boris Johnson last week decided not to uphold the code, so as not to have to sack her, and even issued instructions to his MPs to “form a square around the Prittster”. Patel issued a weaselly non-apology: “I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone.” Allan, not Patel, resigned immediately. It’s outrageous, said Marina Hyde in The Guardian. Patel is forever banging on about the law and personal responsibility. But this government clearly believes that following the rules is for the “little people”.

But is Patel really a bully, wondered Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph. It does rather “beggar belief” that the Home Secretary, who is barely 5ft tall, managed to terrorise all those big “public school mandarins”. (One reportedly fainted after a fractious meeting.) The report itself is much less damning than the headlines. It says that Patel had “become – justifiably in many instances – frustrated by the Home Office leadership’s lack of responsiveness”, and that this manifested itself in “forceful expression”, including swearing; this upset people, though not necessarily “intentionally”. Patel doesn’t suffer incompetence gladly, said Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail. And there’s plenty of that at the Home Office. Successive home secretaries have tried to bring this failing department up to scratch, “but have always been brought down by the giant bureaucratic vampire squid”. It “chews up and spits out” ministers of all parties: Beverley Hughes, Charles Clarke, David Blunkett, Amber Rudd. Maybe Patel is confrontational. But maybe she “just wants to get things done, for a change”.

That’s missing the point, said Alistair Graham in The Guardian. Each prime minister agrees the terms of the ministerial code. “There must be no bullying and no harassment,” writes Johnson in the current version. Sir Alex Allan investigated and found that Patel had clearly breached the code. After sitting on the report for months, Johnson violated the agreed procedure by rejecting the advice – making Allan’s position untenable. The Government is clinging to the defence that her bullying was “unintentional”, said The Independent. But there is nothing unintentional “about stomping around swearing and belittling people” (reportedly calling them “fucking useless”). Still, this saga isn’t over. Patel has yet to face the constructive dismissal case brought by her former permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam. We will hear more then about “her unique style of people management”.


Comments