It's Anti-Bullying Week. Or is it?
November 20, 2020 6:17 AM   Subscribe

November 16-20 is Anti-Bullying Week in the UK. ...

This year's theme is 'United Against Bullying'. From the manifesto: 'Bullying has a long lasting effect on those who experience and witness it. But by channelling our collective power (...) we can reduce bullying together. From parents and carers, to teachers and politicians, to children and young people...'

Here's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson talking about the importance of protecting young people from bullying, in an official Government video released today.

In another Government report, also released today, Home Secretary Priti Patel has officially been found to be a bully.

But Boris Johnson has decided that's OK, and Sir Alex Allan, the Government's standards adviser who produced the report, has resigned instead.
posted by Cardinal Fang (31 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Meanwhile, the government has also confirmed that a grant enabling schools to provide anti-bullying resources designed to stop bullying against LGBTQ+ kids will not be reinstated.
posted by fight or flight at 6:36 AM on November 20 [13 favorites]

This conclusion [that Patel is a bully] needs to be seen in context. There is no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the time

So she's so lacking in empathy that she would have to be explicitly told that her behavior was hurting others, and she was such a bully that no one dared say anything. That would seem to make it worse, not better.
posted by jedicus at 6:42 AM on November 20 [27 favorites]

British society has always relied on bullying to keep people in their place, from children to the lower classes to entire colonies. So, of course this was going to go nowhere. Try to take the white out of rice why don't you.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:49 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]

I am curious about something here, and maybe British MeFites can fill in the gaps. Is it a regular thing that cabinet members and MPs are investigated and held to account for any abusive behaviour toward their staff or civil servants supporting them?

Because my first instinct on reading that a woman of colour is being called out for shouting at people who were perhaps deliberately undermining her ability to do her job is that her lack of civility might not quite be the whole of the problem. That said, she's a member of Boris Johnson's cabinet, so I also don't want to extend her a whole lot of sympathy and benefit of the doubt.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:13 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]

So she's so lacking in empathy that she would have to be explicitly told that her behavior was hurting others

Exactly, a perfect candidate for a Tory Home Secretary.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:17 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]

Next UK news cycle will be taken up with Jeremy Corbyn's plans to destroy the fabric of space-time.
Also - how bad does standard issue English managerial bullshit have to get before it registers as bullying?
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:17 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]

Some context for the non-Brits:
Priti Patel...
- Said that the toppling of the statue of slave trader Colston in Bristol by BLM protestors was "utterly disgraceful".
- Said that the removal of migrants from the United Kingdom was being "frustrated by activist lawyers". Four days later, a far right terrorist attacked a solicitors' office. She continued to criticise the legal profession after this, saying "lefty lawyers" were "defending the indefensible".
- Formerly worked for the tobacco industry, and later as an MP voted to end the smoking ban.
- Voted against same-sex marriage.
- Voted against prisoners being able to vote.
- Says Thatcher is her political hero.

Is it a regular thing that cabinet members and MPs are investigated and held to account for any abusive behaviour

Oh, don't worry, she won't actually be held to account.
...Johnson, who is the sole arbiter of the rules, rejected his adviser’s conclusion by deciding that the code had not been breached, prompting Allan’s [Boris Johnson’s adviser on the ministerial code] resignation on Friday.
A government statement released said: [...] “The prime minister has full confidence in the home secretary and considers this matter now closed. He is grateful to the thousands of civil servants working extremely hard to support delivery of the government’s priorities.”
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:34 AM on November 20 [27 favorites]

Is it a regular thing that cabinet members and MPs are investigated and held to account for any abusive behaviour toward their staff or civil servants supporting them?

It's a good question. In this case, there was certainly a breakdown in the relationship between the Secretary of State (politician) and the Permanent Secretary (civil servant) which resulted in the Permanent Secretary resigning and seeking a claim of constructive dismissal. This is extraordinarily unusual on the part of the Permanent Secretary and probably meant that an investigation was inevitable.

As with other MPs, Cabinet ministers are often alleged to treat staff appallingly badly. For example Gordon Brown was repeatedly accused of bullying as Chancellor and Prime Minister. Although it's a breach of the ministerial code (for which you would be expected to resign), I'd be surprised if a Prime Minister would be willing to force a Cabinet minister to resign merely over the way they treat staff, as opposed for example to corruption or conflict of interest.

Investigations may happen, but being held to account would be unusual. Some of the accusations against Scottish ministers may be of interest.
posted by plonkee at 7:41 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]

"A civil servant allegedly attempted to kill herself after being shouted at by Priti Patel and later received a £25,000 payout from the government on a no liability basis, it has been claimed.” (Independent)

This was in 2015 when she was Employment Minister.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 7:42 AM on November 20 [8 favorites]

For further context:
"Priti Patel asked officials to explore the construction of an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island, a British overseas territory more than 4,000 miles from the UK in the south Atlantic, for migrants coming to Britain." Financial Times
posted by knapah at 7:49 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]

Somehow I can't be shocked that a bully kept her job and the guy trying to stop bullying didn't. Because this is how life goes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:59 AM on November 20 [9 favorites]

Also worth noting that Patel had to resign from a previous ministerial position, in that case for holding meetings with Israeli officials without telling the Foreign Office what she was doing. And lying about it, if I remember right.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 8:21 AM on November 20 [10 favorites]

Priti Patel is a loathesome fascist authoritarian who whips up xenophobia wherever she goes. She's weaponized her Indian (and Ugandan) background as a shield against criticism of the truly disgusting racist policies and dogwhistles she drops everywhere. She's exceptionally dangerous.

Frankie Boyle nails it: "The home secretary: the one woman in Britain who can orgasm by imagining a slow puncture at sea".
posted by lalochezia at 8:29 AM on November 20 [38 favorites]

For context, the Guardian have a piece on five people who have resigned over breaches of the ministerial code (including Patel).
posted by plonkee at 8:29 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]

Sorry to add to the pile-on, but while this can at first look like a case of racism or misogyny, Priti Patel is a renowned awful person to work with (in my case I have heard more than one 2nd hand anecdote of people who have previously worked under her and swear never again). It is not even a case of she deserves censure for being a terrible human being in general (though she does) in this case - she is a known bully, and her sex or ethnicity is no excuse for her behaviour.
posted by Megami at 9:30 AM on November 20 [8 favorites]

Bulli Patel has now apologised saying "I’m sorry you were upset"
posted by Lanark at 9:55 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]


1. Yes, the Ministerial Code has been around for a long time, and ministers are expected to abide by it. In the past, ministers found to have broken the code have resigned, for example Liam Fox.

2. No. Patel's cronies have already attempted to play the race card. Her lack of civility is the whole problem. She's been the way she is for a very, very long time.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 10:07 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]

And here's Andrea Leadsom displaying exactly just how little she understands about bullies and bullying.

Gripper: I never done nuffink. Did I, Denny?
Denny: Naah.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 10:37 AM on November 20

The LRB has a recent article on the UK government’s financial cronyism, including Patel. Possibly paywalled.
posted by clew at 10:40 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone - being a woman of colour can make sometime a target, so I wondered, but if she is profoundly awful, being a woman of colour shouldn't be a shield for that awfulness, either. I appreciate the added context.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:41 AM on November 20 [10 favorites]

You were absolutely right to ask the question.
posted by knapah at 12:01 PM on November 20 [6 favorites]

Marina Hyde has done a pretty fantastic piece on the whole thing. I didn't see it posted earlier, so apologies if I'm just double-posting.

Meanwhile calls for tougher sentencing are growing, after a repeat offender was let off with a warning despite having been found guilty of another serious breach. The case will add to a sense that the UK is a “soft touch” country where recidivists are not simply allowed but effectively encouraged. In a move likely to cause outrage, activist do-gooders further insisted that an offence being possibly “unintentional” means it didn’t count. The implications of that remark for the wider justice system are “catastrophic and a scandal”, says whichever rentaquote Conservative backbencher answers the phone first.
posted by knapah at 12:06 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]

Also worth noting that since she became Home Secretary in July 2019 she has been responsible for fucking up the compensation scheme for the Windrush scandal.
posted by biffa at 12:08 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]

Worth not forgetting the still insufficiently explained secret (not secret from the public you understand: secret from the British cabinet, PM, parliament and diplomatic and intelligence services) meetings with Israeli leaders, including the Prime Minister, while International Development Secretary, which appear to have led to specific (ab)uses of ministerial power, and to amount to Patel having conducted her own foreign policy for personal gain without democratic mandate or legal oversight of any form. She was sacked for that ("resigned", after immense pressure was brought to bear), but her far right politics led to her bouncing back into power under Johnson.

There are plenty of crooks in Johnson's government, and have been a not insignificant number of them in governments of all stripes throughout history, but Patel arguably represents a highwater mark for shameless corruption in a member of the cabinet. She has the honesty of Neil Hamilton, the self-sacrificing professional loyalty of Derek Hatton and the compassionate soul of Norman Tebbit. I hate Thatcher as much as anyone, but Patel could become a massively better person by emulating her more closely. There's not many people you can say that about.
posted by howfar at 12:33 PM on November 20 [20 favorites]

I really badly want to find a new word for "bullying." I don't know if this is also true in the UK, but in the US, the word is so strongly tied to children - abusive behavior by adults becomes trivialized when we call it "bullying" because it implies it's just a problem that a non-child shouldn't be bothered by.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:49 PM on November 20 [5 favorites]

While all this is going on, let’s not forget that almost every side of British media is so incredibly anti-trans that a woman actually was given asylum in New Zealand in 2017 because she made a case for being in danger.

Bullying seems to be a deep part of the British character in some ways.
posted by mephron at 7:35 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

people who were perhaps deliberately undermining her ability to do her job

Ministers being frustrated by the civil service is a long-standing tradition. It has even been made into a sitcom.
posted by swr at 7:51 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Yes, Minister was political propaganda (Hayekian pro-market), and explicitly designed as such. In part one of The Trap by Adam Curtis, Antony Jay explains what he was doing.

The propensity for the civil service to block bright ideas is a feature, not a bug. The British Government would have failed a lot less over the last few years if the shit-idea filter had been functioning as intended.
posted by Grangousier at 2:06 AM on November 21 [4 favorites]

Accidentally posted this to another thread, so better late than never.

I came to write about growing up in UK, I've lived and travelled there since but mainly away since 1980 so I know little of Patel, never really thought about caste and class and whether there was a link ... so a quick wiki and;

"Between 1860 and 1920, the British formulated the caste system into their system of governance [.]". I never knew Britain had 'upgraded' caste and weaponised it. Well fuck, I knew my birth country was evil but whatever next??.

Overthrow seems only solution, how is voting ever going to change them? Could be such an amazing land but upper holds everything back through their inherent selfishness. When travelling there I've met 'working class' normal people who argued in favour of the system, IDK if that's widespread, but sometimes thinking the little you have could be taken away ... those poor people.

Bullying is so beneficial (more or less national policy) for UK upper-class I can't imagine it disappearing for generations. My schools always gave lip service to bullying, I doubt much has/will change. A not so funny thing though is that the bullies from my school days are all dead now; people who are evil little shits when teenagers who carry on like that meet sticky ends, usually before they're 30ish.

Thanks for posting this adamvasco.
posted by unearthed at 6:07 PM on November 22

It just got worse.

Johnson: Ministers have a duty to ensure "there is no place for bullying" in government workplaces.

This is is exactly what Sir Alex did; and, for doing so, Johnson punished him and sided with the bully.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 5:37 AM on November 23

My schools always gave lip service to bullying, I doubt much has/will change.

Last week my kid's school had "odd sock day" on Monday to "raise awareness of Anti-Bullying Week". My kid came home on Monday having no idea why they'd been wearing odd socks (I guess we, the parents, never thought to mention it). They only had an assembly about bullying on the Tuesday.

people who are evil little shits when teenagers who carry on like that meet sticky ends, usually before they're 30ish.

Well that's not quite true, some of them get elected to senior Conservative party positions.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:17 AM on November 23 [2 favorites]

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