If you’re from the UK, or maybe even further afield, the chances are you’ve heard about the allegations of bullying within the office of the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. According to extracts from a book by journalist Andrew Rawnsley, published in the Observer yesterday, Gordon Brown was known to shout and swear at staff, as well as taking his frustrations out on car upholstery by thumping the seat in front of his when travelling. When the allegations were published, Downing Street, led by Peter Mandelsohn swung into action to deny the claims. So far, little more than a run-of-the-mill political scandal.
But then Christine Pratt, a founder of the National Bullying Helpline, weighed into the argument, saying that three or four people from the Prime Minister’s office had contacted her helpline to complain about bullying behaviour. Her so-called ‘revelation’ has opened a can of worms for her own organisation, as well as severely denting the reputation of the anti-bullying sector as a whole.
There have been investigations into exactly who the National Bullying Helpline is, what they do and who they are supported by already, you can see them here and here. What concerns me is that an organisation which is supposedly dedicated to supporting and protecting victims of bullying has effectively hung them out to dry, in favour of a bit of publicity for themselves. And breached those callers’ confidentiality in the process. So let’s look at what that sterling bit of PR has achieved shall we?
- It takes a lot of courage for genuine victims of bullying to speak out. Confidentiality is the least they can expect in return. By trumpeting her ‘sources’ all over the national news, all Christine Pratt has done is to reinforce the fear that telling someone will only make things worse. Just what an anti-bullying charity should be working towards. Well done there.
- Other, reputable anti-bullying charities such as BullyingUK are having to spend precious time, money and resources explaining to angry members of the public that they haven’t said these things and that Christine Pratt is nothing to do with them. They’ve even had to post a statement on their website and twitterfeed to deal with the deluge of angry emails and tweets.
And one of the most important reasons that Christine Pratt should be seriously considering her ‘vocation’ is this:
While bullying between children at school is now generally accepted as a damaging problem, many people are still reluctant to admit that it takes place in the adult world of work. It is commonly explained away as a mere ‘personality clash’, ignoring the devastating effects it can have on victim’s earning potential, mental and even physical health. By throwing the charity into the middle of this spat, the National Bullying Helpine is undoing the years of work that have been put into persuading people to even consider that adult workplace bullying exists – they are discrediting it far more effectively than any underhanded, nefarious bullying boss could dream of doing.
As a victim of workplace bullying in the past myself, all I can hope is that Christine Pratt does the honourable thing and chooses to take her PR ‘expertise’ to bear on a more deserving task, working on the next BNP election campaign perhaps?