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David Cameron should not bully Gordon Brown about bullying

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MorningpapersThis morning's front pages will make painful reading for the Prime Minister. Most continue to lead on the allegations in Andrew Rawnsley's new book that Gordon Brown bullied staff - covered on the weekend's LeftWatch thread - which are now bolstered by claims from the chief executive of the National Bullying Helpline that her charity has had calls from staff at Downing Street.

The Left have moved to bully one of the messengers (a favourite tactic of Alastair Campbell), effectively accusing Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline of being a Conservative who is trying to make political capital out of the row. I've no idea what her politics are, but I do note that, according to its website, the NBH has worked with a number of Labour-linked trade unions including Amicus, Unison, NASUWT and the TUC itself. Mrs Pratt gave a further interview to the Today programme this morning which seemed to raise further questions rather than shed any more light on matters (audio link will follow shortly is here).

Make no mistake, the allegations are serious. But without any individual personally having spoken out themselves to make a specific accusation, the Brown camp can continue to issue generalised denials and we could yet reach a position where Brown ends being viewed by the public as the victim in all of this (as was the case when the Sun monstered him for mis-spelling the name of a dead soldier in a condolence letter).

As such, a time when a narrowing opinion poll lead will be focusing minds, David Cameron should avoid getting involved in the row. There are plenty in the media, the blogosphere and on the Tory backbenches who can comment and ask awkward questions of the Prime Minister on this subject. But the Tory leader should resist any calls for him to go on the offensive.

As Douglas Carswell argued on last night's Westminster Hour (19 minutes and 20 seconds in and available for a week here via BBC iPlayer) there are numerous Labour policy failures on which the Conservative Party should now focus - as well as restating the positive reasons for voting Conservative. Tim's posts over the weekend about designing the ideal Conservative leaflet provide plenty of food for thought on that front.

11.45am update: David Cameron has called for an inquiry on the matter to be undertaken by Sir Philip Mawer. As PoliticsHome records:

Taking questions at the launch of the Network for the Post Bureaucratic Age in central London, Mr Cameron said: "These are very serious matters and I am sure Number 10 will want to have some sort of inquiry." He suggested that the Prime Minister's independent advisor on ministerial standards, Sir Philip Mawer, should look into it. He described the episode as "another unseemly mess at the fag end of a government that is tired and discredited" and said it was "just another reason why we need a general election."

2.15pm update: Lord Mandelson has accused Conservative press officers of being involved in pushing the story - something that the party has vehemently denied. The Business Secretary said this morning:

"I assumed this was a storm in a teacup manufactured by someone who wanted to get some good headlines for his book. It now appears more likely a political operation directed at the prime minister personally."

"I even gather that Conservative Party press officers were active yesterday, guiding journalists towards Mrs Pratt, assuming that she had some fuel to throw on this fire."

Ann Widdecombe serious 7.45pm update: In resigning as a Patron of the National Bullying Helpline, Ann Widdecombe criticised both the charity and the Government. She criticised the NBH for betraying confidences:

“I regret they went public on it. They may not have named names but they have named the workplace. It is just like a priest taking confession and saying he has talked to a murderer - it immediately starts a hare running. Whoever contacts a bullying helpline has to be reassured that their details will be kept confidential.”

But she also hit out at the Government, saying that its reaction to the Rawnsley allegations:

" a great deal of credibility to those who say it is a bullying institution... They have ganged up in the crudest possible way and wielded every last drop of their poisonous power in responding to these allegations."

Jonathan Isaby


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