BULLYING: SPEAKER PAST VS SPEAKER PRESENT
Dominic Raab’s management style has caused Justice juniors – his accusers say – to be too frightened even to enter the Demon’s Den that is the Minister’s office. Guido revealed last week that this Reign of Terror seemed to consist of requiring civil servants to present briefing documents in a usable way.
What do you do with staff who won’t do what they’re told? A forceful managerial style and bullying: what’s the difference – is there a difference?
That Guido’s old pal, the Speaker formerly known as Bercow, was able to deny bullying was an amazing feat of political imagination. It was undeniable. It was there for all to see on the floor of the House. It couldn’t have been more public. Every day and in every way, he demeaned, crushed, silenced those who offended him (Tories, essentially).
Compare and contrast this with the current Speaker’s management of the Chamber. Lindsay Hoyle is active in the Chair. He cuts speakers off when they go on too long. He disallows questions for being irrelevant. He tells MPs to sit down, especially when he is standing. He glares. He signals. He intervenes. And there is not the faintest sense of bullying in what he does. No ulterior sense of wanting to punish, to crush, no hidden agenda, no malice. He wallops cheerfully and his rebukes are taken in the spirit intended.
The difference it makes is palpable. When Hoyle took over as Speaker, the whole mood of the Palace of Westminster lifted. The atmosphere in the Commons is transformed.
But then, MPs in the Chamber do what they’re told. Civil servants are in a different category altogether,
There’s a sign on the door at the entrance to the Commons Central Lobby. It says: “Members are reminded that smoking, or the carrying of lighted cigars, cigarettes, etc. is not permitted in the lobbies.”
This must have been the result of an MP in the lobby being told: “You can’t smoke in here, I’m afraid, sir.” And the MP responding with the nice legal point, ‘I’m not smoking, I’m just carrying it.’
Tom Tugendhat used that exact defence in his court case for using his mobile phone while driving. He said he was just holding it. (“Six months. Take him down.”)
In the second example last week, Matt Hancock explained to his camp-mates that he never broke the law because they weren’t laws he broke, they were regulations. An equally nice distinction that ignored the 16,000 fixed penalty notices issued over lockdown and the threat of 10-year jail terms for offenders.
The legalistic spirit is alive and well among legislators. It certainly keeps drafting clerks in work.
THE SOURCE OF AUSTERITY
One main element in the Defence of Boris is that “he got the big calls right.”
Two years of lockdown and furlough and Track and Trace and PPE fraud racked up such borrowing (£500 billion is mentioned by the BBC) that where are where we are.
Five hundred billion must have been the biggest call in modern times and it’s not at all obvious it was the right one.
JUST STOP SHOUTING AT ME!
They get a pretty good run, the environmental road-blockers whenever they appear on television. They get to ululate, weep and screech, “Don’t you love your children?” and “You want everything to die!” Sky’s Mark Austin heard himself begging young Indigo, “Stop shouting at me!”
When arguing with young hysterics, maybe some calming devices might be helpful? It’s unlikely, but worth a try.
Now breathe, and breathe. No, dear, you are not going to die of climate change.
SAY SORRY – AND MEAN IT
The parliamentary fashion for calling on ministers to “say sorry”, or to “apologise” is gathering pace. Guido hopes it never ends: like children’s jokes it gets funnier with repetition.
Where Opposition MPs think they are belittling their opponents, they are doing the opposite. The trick attempts to paint their accused as naughty children – but it actually portrays the accusers as nags, scolds and end-of-tether mothers. They are caught in their own trap. They are the butt of their own joke. This surely isn’t what the strong, confident women of the Labour movement intend. As for the men…
Here they are from this last week, more or less in their own words:
BILL ESTERSON: While she is apologising, will she also apologise to coastal communities?
ANGELA RAYNER: There’s no hint of apology. Will he apologise?
KIRSTEN OSWALD: The Prime Minister was asked six different times to apologise and all six times, he refused to say sorry. Will he say sorry? If the Government will not say sorry, if the Tories will not say sorry…
IAN MURRAY: The Prime Minister should stop refusing to say sorry.
SARAH JONES: Will they both now apologise to our police for the damage they have done?
SARAH OWEN: They could not turn up today to say sorry.
GARETH THOMAS: Not one word of apology in the opening speech from the Minister.
NEIL COYLE: [Mortgage payers] are still waiting for an apology.
PATRICIA GIBSON: Government is about saying sorry when mistakes are made.
RACHEL REEVES: At the very least, he could have offered an apology.
LISA NANDY: If the hon. Member wants to be the first on the Government Benches to apologise.
LISA NANDY: They may be sorry now, although I am still waiting to hear it.
LISA NANDY: What I have not heard is a single one of them have the humility to come here and say sorry to the people.
LISA NANDY: A Tory government who still cannot bring themselves to say sorry. Say sorry!
LISA NANDY: Apologies do not cut it.
LISA NANDY: I make no apology.
Patricia Gibson probably wins with her assertion that “saying sorry is what Government is about”. She is labouring under a massive misapprehension. Politicians only apologise for things they had nothing to do with, like the Potato Famine or Slavery or the Sacking of the Summer Palace.
One possible response for Government MPs might be to respond in kind: “I’ll say sorry for the mini-budget if you’ll say thank you for the energy cost cap”?
But then you’re rolling around the nursery floor pulling each other’s hair. And while there are some MPs you can imagine enjoying the romp, it would do nothing for the public standing of our elected representatives.
AND IN THE LORDS:
Baroness Blower (Lab): Researchers in the University of Sheffield have shown that, between 1995 and 2015, the finance industry – sometimes referred to as the City of London – made a negative contribution of £4,500 billion to the UK economy. Lord Callanan (Con): The short answer to the Noble Baroness’ question is: I have no idea what she’s talking about.
Lord Dubs (Lab): Surely the water company heads should be sent to jail, not have a gentle ticking off. Is it a lack of power on the part of Ofwat or a lack of willingness to do something about it?
Lord Triesman on economists: At Cambridge University, after the faculty of Economics was re-decorated, I was inveigled into taking part in a debate as to the order in which the portraits of its Nobel prize winners should be rehung and whether it should be Marshall or Keynes in the pre-eminent position. I left that debate after eight hours. No one was an inch further down the line of resolving it and, to my knowledge, the portraits have never been hung, because 20 years later no one is any further down the path of resolving it.