Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A state of bullying.

Earlier today Mrs R saw a link on somebody else's blog to the Unite site and a list of things bullies do, and what the individual is supposed to do if they think they're being bullied. Unfortunately the window containing the original blog got closed, so there's no backlink, which is a touch embarrassing.

Bullying is a bit of a hot topic of the moment, but there are few people whose lives have been untouched by a bully. If you manage to get through childhood unscathed and become a parent then there's bound to be at least one occasion when your child comes home from school with a tale of woe, and you have to decide what to do. That was, actually, what I'd planned to write about, but it got a bit rambling and incoherent because it all touched a nerve.

One of the reasons Mrs Rigby started this blog (the site) was to get a voice of some sort, because nobody really listens to her very much these days - at least not outside the family, and they were beginning to get mighty fed up with hearing the same old, same old, things - so now the blogosphere gets earache instead.

You see, there are some little words that have become identifiers of one huge section of the population that can be pushed to one side. One word is "married", another is one of either "husband", "wife" or "partner".

Mrs R has recently discovered that she can no longer discuss utility bills, can't question credit card bills, can't ask something of the local council - and all because her name isn't at the front of any of the accounts. She's told the information is confidential, even though her name is also on the bills it's the second name, or the name on a second card - so no longer counts. It also means that the person on the other end of the phone can disconnect the call without warning - they have power you see, power over another individual they've never met, and are never likely to meet.

When Mrs R's job vanished she trotted into the local JobCentre to get a bit of help because applying for new ones seemed to have changed, only to be turned away because her husband works for more than so-many-hours-a-week, and earns more than £-so-many. All the rules are set out in a little book of instructions. The staff weren't even allowed to explain the scary-looking job-search machines - nothing, go away, we aren't allowed to help you. So, suddenly, Mrs R became invisible, a nothing. Men don't get a better deal, as we discovered when one male member of the Rigby family suddenly lost his job - he was treated the same, and his family suddenly found themselves relying on a single, very much reduced, income and he was expected to deal with it, get on with it, because there was a wage coming into that address.

All that's probably irrelevant, but it's background information and does sort of link to the bullying thing and what it says on the Unite site
Am I being bullied?

Because workplace bullying is badly understood it is helpful to have a working definition. Below is how we define workplace bullying:

Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions, which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress.

As with harassment, bullying is defined largely by the impact of the behaviour on the recipient, not its intention. Bullying at work can take many forms. The following are just some of the most common ways:

  • Bullies may use terror tactics, open aggression, threats, shouting, abuse, and obscenities towards their target
  • Bullies may subject their target to constant humiliation or ridicule, belittling their efforts, often in front of others
  • Bullies may subject their target to excessive supervision, monitoring everything they do and being excessively critical about minor things
  • Bullies may take the credit for other people's work but never take the blame when things go wrong
  • Bullies may constantly override the person's authority
  • Bullies may remove whole areas of work responsibility from the person, reducing their job to routine tasks that are well below their skills and capabilities
  • Bullies may set the person what they know to be impossible objectives, or constantly change the work remit without telling the person, and then criticise or reprimand the person for not meeting their demands
  • Bullies may ostracise and marginalise their target, dealing with the person only through a third party, excluding the person from discussions, decisions etc
  • Bullies may spread malicious rumours about the individual
  • Bullies may refuse reasonable requests for leave, training etc, or block a person's promotion.
Looking at that list it's worth considering what members of the public are supposed to do if they think they're being bullied by those more powerful than themselves, and whose wages are paid out of the public purse - effectively an employer being bullied by an employee.

One fairly recent example is the AGW stuff, when opponents of the idea have been subjected to ridicule and have been belittled in front of others - in speeches and articles in the media - they have been called 'deniers', and our Prime Minister insultingly referred to us as 'flat earthers'.

There are sections of the population who think they are being subjected to excessive criticism, monitoring - especially about trivial things - like those who have been given instant fines for sneezing in the car, or throwing bread for ducks. Photographers are being arrested for taking photographs - which, according to the Guardian, is now called antisocial behaviour rather than terrorism.

There are impossible objectives - government tells councils to reduce the number of bin collections in order to reduce waste, but households get the same size bin, have the same size family, the same amount of shopping, the same amount of things consumed - and will also get financial penalties for breaking brand new, impossible, rules and no opportunity for legal challenge because that's what the new laws say.

The country is broke, struggling to come out of recession, but none of this was the government's fault, nor was the Chancellor of the Exchequer ever culpable, it was easy to pass the blame elsewhere - the whole thing started in America, it was the bankers, it was the lenders, it was the borrowers, it was Iceland, it was the middle classes, it was the toffs, it was the private sector - anybody but the government.

Bullies overrule others - yes, we've seen that happen, with the salt shortage. Local authorities had their salt stocks taken away by government, which meant that residents of careful, forward thinking, forward planning, authorities were left without. It's impossible to forget the residents of Cow Ark who were told to use "community spirit" when their village was snowed in for days on end.

And so it goes on, and on, and on. Instance after instance of how this government has bullied it's way through the last thirteen years, with things seemingly accelerating recently. As we reach the time for a general election we hear, whispered very quietly, that the centre of Manchester was under Police control last Saturday night, with everybody being forced to pass through metal detector arches or face arrest - unheard of in Britain, but the media remains remarkably quiet, so it goes unchallenged.

It is, frankly, too depressing to wade through the whole of Unite's checklist, there's just too much. The government has done all this because it can, because it has a majority large enough to over-rule any opposition so have been effectively autonomous, oligarchical. We know their pre-election promises were meaningless, yet now they want us to vote for them again - to look at what they have to offer and, bizarrely, around 30% of the population say that is what they will do, it's beyond belief.

This country has changed, almost beyond recognition, in the past 13 years. It's hard to remember what it was like when people were automatically treated with respect, when opinions were listened to, when government governed instead of interfering in the minutiae of everyday lives - and when allegations of bullying were taken seriously.

The reaction in the media first to Rawnsleys' book and later the revelation that people from Downing Street had contacted a very small anti-bullying charity has been quite extraordinary. It's been the same within the blogosphere. There are those who say, bluntly, that there's no place for bullies, whilst others tell the bullied they should lick their wounds and "move on". Others have turned their faces away and tried to ignore what's been happening.

There have been articles in the press, items in the news, with supporters voicing their opinions - almost without exception saying that the person accused of bullying is nice, decent, has a family, or "it's the way he is", "it's a stressful job" and "he's upset" at being called a bully. Whilst the lady who rather foolishly went public has been demonised, her tiny charity has been removed from a government website, she has been called a liar, a fraud and, by Phil Woolas, a government minister - "a prat" - which is really quite rude.

Since when was that a decent thing to call anybody? Would we expect Nick Clegg to say that, what about Cameron - could he get away with it? How about Alex Salmond, or even Nick Griffin? No - they would be outed, ostracised, hounded out of office. What would happen if a 'boss' in industry called an employee a prat? It would be good to think the Unions would step in, not necessarily to seek compensation, but to seek an apology and a chance of behaviour, but all this has happened because the most important man in our government has been accused of being a bully.

It's really hard to take it all in, so we'll leave the last words on the matter from Mr Prescott, who was on Newsnight last night. **

This is a senior politician, a representative of the British people, the man who was once Acting Prime Minister. He was interviewed by Mr Paxman who himself had to give a public apology, because he quoted a rude word from a book written by somebody else.

** An extract can be seen here on Tory Bear too.

No comments: