Alex Massie

Bullying is the Least of Gordon’s Problems

Text settings
Comments

I assume, in accordance with the stale conventions of our time, that the Prime Minister's treatment of his staff will soon be dubbed Bullygate. But I think we all knew that Gordon Brown is, shall we say, a difficult man to work for. So I broadly agree with Jonathan Pearce's take: the character of the man matters but it's hardly the best reason for thinking a change of Prime Minister overdue.

Meanwhile, as so often, there are few scenes more entertaining than the British press indulging its appetite for humbug and hypocrisy. Indeed, what with his penchant for screaming foul-mouthed abuse at subordinates and for flinging phones and anything else that comes to hand about the place, one could be forgiven for thinking that whatever his short-comings as Prime Minister, Gordon is at least qualified to edit a national newspaper...

Actually, the most damaging part of the Rawnsley Revelations may be this:

As Chancellor, Brown had often been able to do his Macavity trick of disappearing in a crisis. As Prime Minister, he could no longer play the mysterious cat. There is no hiding place at Number 10. He was on a steep learning curve. But since experience was supposed to be the reason he got the job, inexperience was not an alibi Brown could ever use. He sounded surprised to make the discovery that "hundreds of things pass your desk every week". He did not excel at multi-tasking. His preference and his forte were to concentrate on one big thing at a time. He had largely been able to do that at the Treasury, where he could focus on the four or five major events of a Chancellor's year. Prime Ministers can get hit by four or five major events in a month, even a week. "As Prime Minister, you are bombarded with things, everything happens in real time," says one Downing Street official who closely observed both Blair and Brown.

Torrential volumes of business flow through Downing Street, much of it demanding instant attention. Civil servants at the Treasury had adapted to and covered for Brown's chaotic and intermittently intense way of making decisions. Officials at Number 10 and the Cabinet Office were at a loss how to deal with his working habits. Confronted with difficult decisions, one senior civil servant found: "He just delays and delays, thinking he will get a better set of options later. But quite often the options just get worse."

This was exacerbated because Brown was so power-hugging. Geoff Hoon summarises it well: "One of the great ironies of Tony and Gordon is that both of them didn't have any time for ministers. The difference is that Tony broadly let you get on with it. He wasn't much interested unless something went wrong. In contrast, Gordon wants to interfere in every-thing. He's temperamentally incapable of delegating responsibility. So he drives himself demented."

That's a picture of a broken, dysfunctional government run by a man most unlikely to be able to change his ways. Poor Gordon, capax imperii and all that. But this, rather than the swearing the and phone-flinging, is what actually matters.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Comments
Topics in this articlePolitics