10 November 2022
Lashing the Whip
A foolish complaint.
By Robert Kilconner
Gavin Williamson may be a foulmouthed, bad tempered, aggressive oik with a penchant for his spaniels but the allegation that he bullied the chief whip asks more questions about the lady herself than it does about him. How on earth did someone in such a position allow themselves to be bullied?
The fact that Wendy Morton (chief whip from 6 September 2022 to 25 October 2022) is a woman has of course nothing to do with it. The chief has the tough job of putting pressure on renegade MPs to get them to support government business. That involves friction, argument and sometimes making threats. Whoever holds the office, whether male or female, has to be able to survive in that rough tough environment or they are not fit to hold the job. Getting into a position where they have to complain about bullying is an extremely bad start.
Bullying, as anyone who has seen it at close quarters (which is most of us) will know, involves two parties. There is the person who does the bullying and, at the other end of the exchanges, the person who gets bullied. We do not for a moment subscribe to the theory that the person who is bullied generally brings it upon themselves, but for all that there has to be an imbalance in the relationship. The bully has to achieve power over the bullied either because he or she comes higher in some hierarchy or because of a stronger character or perhaps simply through greater persistence and aggression.
At the top of politics the ability to break down or ignore power of this sort is crucial. Take the position of the Foreign Secretary, for example, who has to stand up to foreign potentates. They will be rude, aggressive and domineering if they are given the chance and it is the Foreign Secretary’s job not to be pushed around by them; the relationship between the chief whip and an MP is different but both of them should be capable of standing up for themselves without being bullied. Otherwise they are simply useless.
One can certainly see that Williamson was extremely rude but should someone who had risen to the level of chief whip or above really have been fazed by that? Would Mrs T have been fazed? Would Boris have been fazed? Would Starmer have been phased? Would Blair have been fazed? Of course they wouldn’t. A robust reply or even a good kicking perhaps, but no whimpering away alleging bullying to an ethics committee. We deserve tougher politicians than that. It can only be a good thing that Ms Morton spent such a short time in office.