Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Occasionally, there are news stories here in the U.K. that just go on and on and on for no discernible reason. This week that story is "Gordon Brown is a Bully."
Gordon Brown, you see, is our prime minister. A new book has come out by the Observer's political editor that recounts some scenes that show that our prime minister has a bit of a temper. Shocker! Someone with one of the most stressful jobs in the world gets angry from time to time. Stop the presses! This is big news!
Soon after the book's excerpts were printed in the Sunday Observer, Christine Pratt, the head of the National Bullying Helpline, claimed that her charity had received several calls from staff at Downing Street. She then made appearances on every major news show in the U.K. to recount the claims. Ms. Pratt, it would seem, got her 15 minutes of fame.
However, I don't think this story passes the smell test.
First, think about people who are lucky enough to work at Downing Street. Surely they must appreciate the stress the prime minister is under, and he may get angry from time to time. I get angry from time to time and I don't even have to worry about running a country. Surely they wouldn't have felt the need to get support from a helpline? A helpline, incidentally, that is only open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
Secondly, the charity is incredibly small. That's not to say that people wouldn't have called it, but surely if people had concerns about being bullied at work, they would have used better known avenues to vent their frustration and concerns. According to the Charity Commission website, the charity only had revenues of £1,818 in 2007, and the accounts for 2008 are 209 days overdue.
In fact, if you Google "Bullying at Work," the charity's website doesn't appear in the first 100 search results, or the first 10 search results pages, though it does top the list in news results.
Finally, even if they did call the helpline, isn't that an egregious breach of confidentiality? Wouldn't Ms. Pratt's claims make future clients reluctant to call the helpline, for fear that their information would be shared in the national media?
I don't doubt that the charity did good work, albeit on a small scale. But I just don't believe that they got the calls. The helpline has been suspended, as most of its patrons have now resigned, and it needs to figure out what to do next.
Please, U.K. news media, can we move to another story now?