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Comment: Bullying in Politics Happens Locally Too

Published on: 16 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 16 Nov, 2022

Watch Tweeted interview extract in linked article.

By Martin Giles

The former MP for Guildford, Anne Milton, has kept a fairly low profile since her deselection as a Conservative by Boris Johnson and her subsequent defeat as an Independent in the 2019 general election, but she certainly grabbed the headlines last week when she emerged to put the final nail in the coffin of Gavin Williamson’s status as a cabinet minister.

See: Cabinet Member Resigns Within Hours of Anne Milton’s Criticism

She described his behaviour when she was his deputy as threatening and intimidating, and that he used salacious gossip as leverage against MPs, including a few incidents where, as the chief government whip, he would use people’s sexual preferences or other sensitive issues against them.

On Monday (November 14), Ms Milton was interviewed on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about the problem of inappropriate behaviour in Parliament.

Asked about her motivation to speak out she said: “I felt it was time.”

Urging quicker investigations of such behaviour she continued: “We should all be very shocked about this. It’s really important that this culture finishes. I actually think [PM] Rishi Sunak is fundamentally a good man but he’s got to be in a position where he listens to the truth from other people.

Source – GOV.UK

“If he really wants to stand by the principles he spelt out, he’s got to be receptive, and go out and hear what is obviously rumoured in Westminster and make sure that his government is behaving to the highest possible standards.

“I think one of the dangers and of the culture in Westminster is everybody shrugs their shoulders and says, Well, you know what politics is like, it can almost feel like a bit of a joke, though the reality of using information to intimidate or bully people is really awful and it has to be stamped on.

“It feels like it got worse, possibly under Boris Johnson, who is a very blokeish bloke. You never saw him without either a hi-vis jacket or hard hat. And I think my biggest fear is this puts off women going into politics because they hear these stories, and they say forget it and we don’t want that to happen.

“We want a functioning democracy and to have a functioning democracy we have to have leaders who set the highest standards and comply with those standards. We have to have systems that are trusted, for reporting things that fall short of the behaviour that we expect of leaders. And we also have to make sure that they are dealt with swiftly. I think the long time it takes to address some of the complaints also acts against the system.”

The former MP said she had no evidence to add to the recent allegations about Justice minister Dominic Raab’s behaviour. And when the subject of Matt Hancock, the MP for West Suffolk, going to Australia to appear in the reality TV show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, was raised, and the suggestion that his constituents were powerless to do anything about it, Ms Milton said that they could vote him out at the next election.

“But,” she added “maybe the system of recalling MPs… needs to be looked at again to give people an opportunity to get rid of an MP who they feel… has fallen short” before concluding: “It feels a bit tragic, to be honest. I think it’s a bit of a shame that Matt Hancock felt that he needed to do this.”

The problem exists in local government too…

And the problem of bullying is not restricted to politics nor the national level of politics in parliament. A former local councillor who did not wish to be named told The Dragon: “My experience of local government was wonderful and difficult at the same time.

“The breadth of work councils are involved with and the insights it gave me were eye-opening.

“Most of my fellow councillors had stood for election for altruistic reasons and shared with me a vision of leaving office with our local area being better than when we had first been elected.

“But for the few, it was all about party politics and it was about wielding new found power they gained without being part of a meritocracy.

“Despite there being training on EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion], on good conduct in public office and other such topics, there were moments when behaviours were taken too far. I put it down to politics. The wish to win the votes on issues our party had put forward, the unspoken understanding that on important votes we should vote along party lines, despite there not being an official whip.

Source – GOV.UK

“Sometimes these issues hadn’t been discussed fully in advance, and democracy needs open discourse and challenge to function properly. If all the meetings are rehearsed and agreed in advance, the public do not see any of this open discourse so we are doing a disservice to democracy. A few spoke up but sometimes there were recriminations and these sowed divisions in the party.

“The odd harsh word, the verbal jab as a joke, the knowledge that there was gossip going around. There was clearly an in-crowd.

“Stepping out of line, even if inadvertently, was not viewed favourably and accusations were made. Some reacted better than others. Some asserted themselves and managed the situation, while others lost the arguments and then avoided putting themselves in such a situation again, once again depriving the residents of open discourse and challenge.

“There is a complaints procedure in place of course, but it can feel like washing your dirty laundry in the streets and, anyway, takes ages.

“None of this should have happened. We should all have behaved with respect and communicated clearly and debated fully, focusing on what was best for our local area and its residents.

“And we could have shown others the sort of behaviours we wanted from them. As it was, during my term in office, it seemed the residents felt increasingly more empowered to criticise, to heckle and make their disaffections felt.

“Sometimes I questioned why they were there, but was reminded daily by many wonderful people in the borough who all shared a desire to improve our local area for our local people. We need local people, passionate about their area to stand for public office, and we must show them respect for their efforts, whether we agree with them or not.”

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Responses to Comment: Bullying in Politics Happens Locally Too

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 16, 2022 at 11:17 am

    This comes as no surprise, as there are a number of councillors who think nothing of bullying, and insulting members of the public, so why would they stop at bullying other councillors. Who can forget the public being compared at a planning meeting to a “bloody rabble”.

    There has been something rotten at GBC for quite some time.

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