Why bullying is tolerated in the corridors of power | Letters

Paul McGilchrist on the inappropriate behaviour he has seen first-hand at Westminster and the difficulty of bringing about change. Plus letters from Mariam Khan and Stacy Marking

Gaby Hinsliff’s conclusions on Westminster bullying are well-founded (Let the humiliation of John Bercow be a warning to bullying bosses everywhere, 10 March). Part of the explanation for this malignancy is that we tend to consider the few visible cases as exceptional rather than indicative. But while the reported behaviour of Dominic Cummings, Priti Patel or John Bercow may represent the higher-octane levels of outrageous conduct, it is hardly the case that lacerating tirades are rare in Westminster.

In my brief stint as a parliamentary researcher I witnessed displays of unconstrained thuggery by some MPs towards their subordinates that certainly would not have been tolerated in any other branch of public service. It would also have appalled the public, who are used to seeing only the urbane, polished versions of these MPs on television.

It was perfectly clear and wholly understood that, for some, party affiliations and personal ambition required these brutal tantrums to be endured as an occupational hazard.

Such tolerance has three pernicious effects: lowering of the bar for what is permissible; encouraging a perception that abuse is the consequence merely of passion and perfectionism; and imagining that an elevated position should offer indemnity against sanction for behaviour for which the less exalted would be dismissed.

Hinsliff is, of course, right to point to the heavy obligation that rests with the workplace “that makes the rules for everyone else”, but institutional cultures have long histories and deep roots, and their dismantling always has as many defenders as disruptors. That is why they endure despite good sense, public incredulity or common decency.
Paul McGilchrist
Colchester, Essex

• Workplace bullying – which can be sideways between workers, upwards from workers to supervisors, or downwards from supervisors to workers – is rampant in many organisations. In the absence of clear policies against this, ideas about what is workplace bullying remain arbitrary and subjective. Employers should implement clear policies on this and raise awareness at all levels.

People who are hurt are prone to hurting others and creating a negative work environment. Organisations should consider pre-employment psychological screening to identify people with personality disorders, while ensuring that the screening is not used to discriminate against vulnerable people, but to protect others from the harmful effects of unaddressed psychological issues.
Mariam Khan
Lahore, Pakistan

• Gaby Hinsliff does not mention Priti Patel’s history of bullying and harassment in three separate ministries. Protected by Boris Johnson’s instructions for MPs to “form a square around the Prittster”, Patel has somehow remained home secretary, while Bercow is ritually humiliated for seemingly the same (and, yes, inexcusable) offence. Another example of chumocracy.
Stacy Marking
Litton Cheney, Dorset

Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Please email us your letter and it will be considered for publication.

Letters

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Windrush scandal is linked to a bullying culture | Letters
Letters: In response to Amelia Gentleman’s piece arguing that the bullying allegations at the Home Office pale in comparison to Windrush, Clare Sheffield says that both are part of the same problem, and Ian Bartlett writes that the issue isn’t limited to one department

Letters

05, Mar, 2020 @6:20 PM

Article image
Bullying ministers have no place in government | Letters
Letters: Boris Johnson cannot wave aside an independent report into Priti Patel’s behaviour, writes Dr Anthony Isaacs, while Steve Colbey takes issue with the home secretary’s non-apology. Plus letters from Catherine Dornan, Wendy Bond, Alan James and Paul Brownsey

Letters

22, Nov, 2020 @5:16 PM

Article image
Time for a #MeToo moment for office bullies | Letter
Letter: A former government legal adviser describes her experience of being forced out of her job by an intimidating manager

09, Feb, 2023 @6:49 PM

Article image
It’s not just John Bercow. British politics is degraded by bullies and liars | Letter
Letter: Deirdre Burrell responds to an independent inquiry’s findings about the former Speaker of the House of Commons

Letters

09, Mar, 2022 @5:34 PM

Article image
We can be proud of the Home Office I lead | Letter
Letters: Permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft responds to an article about his government department

Letters

14, May, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
The Observer view on the toxic workplace that is Westminster | Observer editorial
Bullying is rife in parliament and MPs should be the last people to condone it

Observer editorial

13, Nov, 2022 @6:30 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on John Bercow: after Brexit is the time for change | Editorial
Editorial: The Commons speaker has been a welcome reformer, but his successor must bring fresh energy to ending a bullying culture

Editorial

16, Oct, 2018 @5:37 PM

Article image
The Bercow bullying allegations matter far beyond Westminster | Gaby Hinsliff
In any walk of life, the accused must be confronted – no matter how important they are. Parliament should lead by example, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

07, Feb, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Online comments suggest history of civil service bullying
Responses on government blog detail claims of personal experiences of harassment

Simon Murphy

12, Nov, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
Civil servant vows bullying zero tolerance after Priti Patel reports
DfID permanent secretary writes to reassure staff that ministry ‘takes harassment very seriously’

Jamie Grierson, Home affairs correspondent

24, Feb, 2020 @4:53 PM