Who you gonna call? Not the bullying hotline

IS Gordon Brown a workplace bully? I don't know. And I doubt very much whether Christine Pratt really knows either.

Aidan Semmens

IS Gordon Brown a workplace bully? I don't know. And I doubt very much whether Christine Pratt really knows either.

Some things I do know, though.

Bullying bosses can make life hell for their victims. And it can be very hard to report them, or even know who to tell.

I don't mean physical bullying, which I've never seen or experienced in a work environment. I mean the aggressive use of hierarchical power, which can be far worse.

Not shouting or throwing things around, but verbal intimidation; unreasonable demands; maybe implicit threats; a pattern of broken promises.

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It can create stress, destroy confidence, sleep, health, marriages.

It's not a rare thing, either. It's endemic in our society. In many fields of work, bullies prosper. Often, I suspect, without realising the effect they have or how colleagues see them.

The use of fear as a tool of management is commonplace. Call it Alex Ferguson's hairdryer and it's even widely approved.

Though whether the hairdryer is really bullying I'm not sure, never having been in the Manchester United dressing-room. Whatever Ferguson's methods, they clearly work, and many of his players appear to love him.

So how are we to react to the tacit admission that Gordon Brown is a passionate boss who sometimes shouts at people?

Does it make him like Ferguson, or something worse?

Either way, does it lower him in our esteem, and with a general election looming, too?

Or does it improve his image to be seen as a “strong” leader?

After all, Winston Churchill was hardly averse to throwing his considerable weight around. Or using his highly-sharpened wit as a weapon.

Do you imagine Margaret Thatcher was all sweetness and kindliness to staff and colleagues when the cameras weren't rolling?

Both Thatcher and Churchill benefited from being considered tough, even by those who loathed their politics. So maybe this latest attempt to discredit Brown will backfire.

It certainly hasn't shown up the hitherto unknown Mrs Pratt in a very good light.

Let's leave aside her timing and her motives, interesting though they might be.

By revealing that someone at No.10 had called the National Bullying Helpline she didn't just break confidentiality, she drove a horse and cart through it.

If ever I was tempted to ring their number, I certainly wouldn't do it now.

Whoever phoned from Downing Street (if anyone really did) is now in a very uncomfortable position indeed if there was any truth in the bullying claim.

But more than betraying that person's trust, more than perhaps smearing Brown, Pratt has broken the code upon which all helplines depend.

In doing so, she has damaged not just her own charity.

By sowing a gritty grain of doubt, she has hurt the Samaritans, Childline and every other service that relies on trust, anonymity and confidentiality.

IT struck me first when watching those ads for razor blades in which he appeared with fellow sporting stars Roger Federer and Thierry Henry.

It hit me again with a thud when watching his self-flagellating apology for marital misdemeanours.

Despite obvious racial differences, Tiger Woods is a dead-ringer for Tony Blair.

Is that why his televised grovelling seemed to me so phoney? Such a calculated display of fake emotion?

Exactly who was Tiger saying sorry to?

If it was his wife, why go on TV to do it? If it was any or all of the other women he's slept with, why do it at all?

If it was his fans - well, what's his sexual behaviour really got to do with them anyway? It's his fabulous golfing ability they really care about.

If it was his sponsors… Yes, that's it of course.

It's all about image. And that is all about money.

Coming on the day the Accenture World Matchplay Championship began (without him), Tiger's declaration of regret cocked a snook at a sponsor that had dropped him.

But I was amused at the complaint from rival golfer Ernie Els that the timing was “selfish”.

What, a top sports star - and one in an individual sport at that - selfish? Who could believe such a thing?

Truth is, if Tiger wasn't massively self-centred he'd never have got as good at golf as he is.

And that goes for Els, Ian Poulter and all the other top guys too. It probably goes for anyone who reaches the top of any tree. Like Blair, for instance. Or John Terry.

In fact, I wouldn't care to vouch for Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama or Mother Teresa always doing their share of the shopping and cleaning.

Not that I'd put Tiger, or Blair, in their category in other respects. And I'm not for a moment suggesting any of them ever shared Woods's particular weakness.

(Sex addiction? Sounds to me like a convenient excuse for self-indulgent lack of self-control. Self-destructive perhaps, self-centred certainly. All about self, and therefore the exact opposite of love.)

But when it comes to anyone highly successful, in any field, maybe “selfish” is the inevitable flip side of “focused”.