I won’t accept bullying, Boris Johnson tells cabinet

Just shows his lacklustre cabinet would believe anything!

This is Owl’s “in bad taste” joke of the day.

Eleni Courea, Political Reporter www.thetimes.co.uk 

Boris Johnson spoke out against bullying yesterday during a cabinet meeting and referred to Winston Churchill’s wife imploring him to be kind.

The prime minister last week overruled Sir Alex Allan, his adviser on ethics, as he cleared Priti Patel, the home secretary, of breaching the ministerial code. Sir Alex found Ms Patel had “unintentionally” bullied civil servants but Mr Johnson argued that the cases were not clear. Sir Alex subsequently resigned.

Mr Johnson told cabinet he would not accept bullying and referred to Clementine Churchill, who in 1940 wrote to her husband after one of his friends had complained of his “rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner”.

She urged him to combine his “terrific power” with “urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympian calm”. “You won’t get the best results by irascibility and rudeness,” she wrote. “They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality.”

A former cabinet secretary has said that Mr Johnson should reassert the principle of ministerial responsibility instead of demonstrating “tribal” loyalty to allies such as Ms Patel.

The prime minister appears not to “hold his colleagues responsible for their actions where they have got things wrong but it would be inconvenient to accept it”, Lord Wilson of Dinton, a crossbench peer and former head of the civil service, wrote in a letter published in The Times today.

Lord Wilson criticised Mr Johnson’s refusal to sack his home secretary after Sir Alex found that she had bullied officials. Sir Alex’s report said that Ms Patel had shouted and sworn at officials in her department, amounting to “behaviour that can be described as bullying”, in breach of the code.

Lord Wilson, who was cabinet secretary from 1998 to 2002, described the prime minister’s decision as “worrying”.

“There is a growing string of cases where ministers wrongly disclaim responsibility, whether it be the harassment of civil servants or intervening improperly in the planning process or blaming others for the exams fiasco or poor handling of the pandemic,” he wrote.

“Forming a square around a colleague who is in trouble sounds tribal rather than good governance. Perhaps refurbishment of No 10’s image could include reassertion of the principle of ministerial responsibility.”

This episode of the Stories of our Times podcast will form part of a week-long series. We’ll explore: what should happen to British nationals who left to join Islamic State, and do we have a responsibility to bring them back?

A union leader criticised Ms Patel over reports that she intended to shake up the Home Office by forcing officials to work some weekends and introducing performance reviews for senior civil servants.

Figures from a union survey of senior Home Office officials this month, seen by The Times, suggested that 40 per cent worked at least an additional eight or more hours every week, unpaid.

Dave Penman, head of the FDA union, which represents civil servants, said: “To suggest the home secretary is now responsible for performance reviews for the ‘senior ranks’ is simply fiction. It is also insulting to suggest that the civil service does not respond to demands or is stuck in a 9-5 culture, as the anonymous briefings suggest.”