How Labour are bullying the Tories in the polls
The Mole: Downing St needs to knock the bully-boy saga on the head - the election is now winnable
Two immediate questions arise from Andrew Rawnsley's claim that Gordon Brown's temper is so foul, and his behaviour towards his Downing Street staff so bad, that the Cabinet secretary Gus O'Donnell had to give him a pep talk. Is it true and does it really matter?
The answer to the first is yes, of course it's basically true. Everyone knows Brown has a foul temper - he barely suppresses it when he goes out in public, let alone in the privacy of his own office. Rawnsley has clearly spoken off-the-record to a number of Downing Street political aides and civil servants and - as is always the risk with this sort of journalism - they are now "on the record" and unable to back the author's claims.
Rawnsley says his sources are "24 carat" and there's no reason to argue with that.
As for the second question, no, probably not, as long as Downing Street can knock it on the head asap. Are the public going to vote against a man with one of the most pressured jobs in the country because he sometimes lets rip at his staff? No. If they feel that strongly about Brown, they will have already made up their minds to vote against him.
The fact is that while the "new look" Observer will have been delighted with the headlines it attracted for its first extracts from Rawnsley's book, The End of the Party, the big election news was in the Sunday Times: the latest YouGov poll shows the gap between the Tories and Labour has shrunk to just six points.
Replicated in a general election, this would give the Tories 290 seats in the House of Commons and Labour 280.
But here's the important point: if this trend continues, and the gap shrinks to five points, that would put Labour back in front. Four points and it's looking even easier. We're not just looking at a hung parliament - this election is actually winnable for Labour.
So while the Tories may be gloating at the bullying scandal, they cannot rest on their laurels. They still have to address the fundamental truth that the great British public does not like the look of them as much as they should at this stage of a general election campaign.
As for the atmosphere at Number Ten, it has not been helped by the emergence on the scene yesterday of Christine Pratt, chief executive of the National Bullying Helpline.
To put her rather awkward intervention in perspective, allow the Mole to quickly run over the bully-boy claims in The End of the Party and the subsequent denials.
Rawnsley writes that Gus O'Donnell was so disturbed by the effect of Brown's behaviour on Downing Street staffers that he took it upon himself to try "to calm down frightened duty clerks, badly treated phone operators and other bruised staff by telling them, 'Don't take it personally'".
During one outburst recounted by Rawnsley's "24 carat" sources, Brown, travelling in his official car, clenched his fist in fury after being told some unwelcome news and then thumped the back of the passenger seat with such force that a protection officer sitting in the front flinched with shock. The aide sitting next to the PM - the one who had had just given him the information that provoked the outburst - cowered because he feared "that the prime minister was about to hit him in the face".
Downing Street knew the contents of Rawnsley's book - they were widely leaked earlier this month - and were ready to hit back with a double whammy: a Brown interview in the Independent on Sunday - coverline: LIES! - and an appearance by Lord Mandelson on yesterday's Andrew Marr Show.
Brown told the Independent on Sunday: "It is simply a lie to say that I've ever hit anybody in my life. I may have done one or two good tackles at rugby, but the idea that is suggested in this so-called inside account is just ludicrous."
Mandy told Marr: "I don't think he so much bullies people as he is very demanding of people... There is a degree of impatience about the man but what would you like, some sort of shrinking violet at the helm of the Government when we are going through such stormy waters?"
If anyone thought this was going to close the chapter on Brown the Bully, they were sadly wrong. Up popped Ms Pratt who told the BBC that the National Bullying Helpline had received "three or four" calls in recent years from within Downing Street and that Brown's "outright denial" was "non-credible in today's age".
"Over recent months we have had several inquiries from staff within Gordon Brown's office," she said. "Some have downloaded information; some have actually called our helpline directly and I have spoken to staff in his office."
Downing Street has now demanded evidence from Pratt. If she's got any, then the lapel-grabbing and seat-thumping at Downing Street will be something to behold. ·
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