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.
• 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.
• 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.
Litton Cheney, Dorset
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