By Sue Cameron, FT columnist. Sue is a former presenter of BBC2’s Newsnight, of Channel Four News and of the ITN Parliament Programme.
The row over bullying at Number 10 is a terrific watch for onlookers but it is NOT news.
It was back in November 2007 in the FT’s Notebook that I broke the story of how moody Gordon Brown had been “tearing strips ” off the Number 10 garden girls and had then turfed one of them off her chair and started typing himself.
Most of the other nationals followed it up at the time and now Andrew Rawnsley is recycling it again along with other stories of GB shouting at people, kicking the furniture etc.
It seemed even more outrageous then than it does second time around. The garden girls – the elite cadre of Whitehall secretaries who work in rooms overlooking the Number 10 garden – are one of the mainstays of any government. One or two of them go everywhere with the prime minister and normally everyone gets on brilliantly. Tony Blair used to take them on his exotic holidays to Tuscany and Barbados ( in case urgent prime ministerial business had to be dispatched) and even when they went to his constituency he bought them and the security men fish and chip suppers.
Mind you, Sir Winston Churchill could be difficult. He didn’t turf them off their chairs but he did sometimes hand them his false teeth so they always took hankies with them when they went to take his typing. Oh – and hats. When they were in the car with the great man he often allowed his budgie to fly round the vehicle and the only way to save their hair from the wretched budgie’s droppings was to wear a hat.
How far will the bullying re-allegations damage GB? Maybe less than you think. There is no chance whatever of anyone launching any formal inquiries – daft to even think it – and his PR people, who have been desperate to convince the voters that he’s human and not a speak-the-stats machine, are busily presenting him as a man of passion.
They’d like the public to contrast passionate Gordon with David Cameron’s almost Blairite smoothness. Talking of smoothness, spare a thought for the man in the middle, top civil servant Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary and head of the home civil service. Following the publication of Andrew Rawnsley’s book, the cabinet office is strenuously denying that Sir Gus gave GB a verbal warning about his bullying. Well of course Sir Gus would not have done anything so crass! Would he have had a quiet, oh-so- tactful word about the best way of er… getting things done, prime minister? You bet.
Sue Cameron writes for the FT’s notebook column, giving an insider’s guide to the intrigues of Whitehall.