Priti Patel: Bullying Accusations

Saturday, February 29th saw senior advisor Sir Philip Rutnam add another blow to Priti Patel's stint as Home Secretary. Adding another accusation of bullying, Rutnam has described Patel's behaviour in the Guardian, “shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out.” Equally, the BBC quotes a Whitehall insider commenting that ‘Ms Patel had created a "hostile and unhappy" environment for civil servants there by questioning their capability and undermining their performance.' Wednesday 4th March sees another accusation, meaning three government departments now accuse Patel of bullying.

A Tory spokesman has alluded to 'dark forces' trying to influence the investigation into Patel, whatever that means. People's conduct toward each other in recent times seems to be under scrutiny. Whether it is at work, in people’s personal lives or online, the word 'bullying’ holds serious connotations. When Patel was first accused, my immediate reaction was to trust the accusations. I find her politics stomach churning, interpreting her smirk on the release of her new point-based immigration system excruciating.

But then I heard Theresa Villiers on Radio 4's Today program highlighting these accusations as based in misogyny. Villiers herself had faced misogynistic treatment in her time in politics. Thus, I began to self-reflect. If Patel were a man, would the language be different? Would these accusations instead be praise? Would words like 'belittling' and 'unreasonable' be changed to 'forthright' and 'unrelenting'? Would a man be able to get away with such conduct, simply being seen as good at his job? Is Patel, as a woman in politics, embodying the reality that woman who are in charge are degraded as bossy and unreasonable, whereas men who act similarly are applauded? If Patel is acting in such a way, there would undoubtedly be an edge of misogyny in reactions to her, from the press and even from her colleagues, such is the nature of being a powerful woman. But does this mean peoples claims should be undermined? Ultimately no, people are protected from bullying in the workplace, complaints made should be dealt with seriously, as I hope they will be.

I am personally struggling with my inclination to believe accusers, especially in such a high-pressured setting in which an accusation like that is at risk of jeopardising a career as Sir Rutnam alluded to in his statement. At the same time, I expect Patel to be treated misogynistically, I agree with Villiers that 'spiteful briefings' against high powered woman happen 'again and again’.

As of yet, these accusations remain accusations; but increasing accusations and resignations of senior officials does paint a glaring picture of what seems a government of mounting chaos. The hiring and firing of controversial advisor Andrew Sabinsky after outrage, the resignation of Sajid Jaavid, and just Dominic Cummings in general. The BBC's political editor Laura Kuennsburg refers to 'mounting evidence of unhappiness' and a 'government in a hurry'.

As investigations continue, I am interested to see what transpires; maybe we'll find out what the 'dark forces' truly are

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