If we ever doubted the importance and influence of the US Democrats’ advisors on the New Labour project, the furore over allegations of bullying at Number 10 surely brings it all into focus. Former Clinton aide Bob Shrum is there still but the early influence of Clinton “attack dog” James Carville is stamped all over the method of response to the revelations by Christine Pratt that staff at Downing Street had contacted her Charity hotline over the issue of bullying.
Those of us with longer memories may recall the emergence of a succession of ‘smoking bimbos” during Bill Clinton’s election campaign and how it was handled by James Carville and his then colleague Paul Begala. The whole Press Corps knew that Bill had an eye for the ladies. His longstanding relationship with Gennifer Flowers and modus operandi with those he met more casually were common knowledge in Little Rock society but were kept out of the public eye until a little person, Paula Jones refused to be cowed by the political machine that had long protected Bill.
Whilst her court case took its course Carville famously declared that you could drag a $100 note through any trailer park in the US and encourage any number of similar false allegations. Meanwhile, Hillary, like Harriet Harman yesterday, spoke of the allegations as having no evidence or being “unfair.” The story later darkened with an allegation of rape by a Democratic Fund raiser Juanita Boaderick who, like many of Andrew Rawnsley’s sources had no obvious political axe to grind and never sought money for her disclosure.
When Linda Tripp secured damming evidence from her co-worker Monica Lewinski, Hilary took to the airwaves with covering fire declaring that this was all a “vast right wing conspiracy.”
Is this ringing any bells yet?
In the present story, there is a similar factual matrix of potentially believable allegations. They are long standing and from potentially reputable sources. Many in the press corps have their own conversations with Downing Street insiders. Even Lord Mandelson once spoke of Gordon Brown trying to “destroy” him. If the truth is as, the BBC has said, that Mrs Pratt has stumbled out of her depth, by calling a local radio station only to find herself in the midst of a national story, there is a very worrying sub-text within the Labour response.
The original allegations were of course Mr Rawnsley’s. He stands by them and is more than capable of taking care of himself. He has lawyers to protect him and the Prime Minister knows it. He will not sue. Mrs Pratt does not have such resources. She appears, prima facie, to have been naive enough to think a simple low key confirmation that Downing Street does not actually implement policy on bullying allegations would be taken at face value, and just be one small whisper beneath the noise of warring Titans.
She has not broken any confidence that I can see. No identifiable person is “at risk” – and I have to ask – if this a bull- free zone – “at risk of what?” All her initial involvement asked, was that due process to which she and other high profile Government Ministers are committed, be followed. She says she has reason for suspecting it is not. A proper and principled response was to follow those processes, to declare that any such allegations will be treated responsibly and respectfully.
Instead Mrs Pratt has been subjected to the full malevolent Carville-style treatment. She is a liar, her private emails have been released to the press, a past complaint (originally dismissed) is now revived. Her husband’s business ethics are being questioned. Brown supporters are across the airwaves accusing her of saying what she has not said (including that anyone accused Brown of being the bully).
I did think, “Methinks they do protest too much”, but let me not be flippant. It must be terrifying to be emotionally assaulted in this way by a powerful ruthless political machine.
All Mrs Pratt has raised is the un-astonishing proposition that if bullying is felt by an employee, due process should address it, and if Number 10 is not following this approach it is not up to a standard. Let us remind ourselves that the Brown Government introduced the principle that if a victim felt they were being racially attacked – it was a racial attack. The “attacker did not have to feel racially motivated" – all was in the eye of the beholder. Why do we not apply a similar logic here?
If someone feels Gordon Brown has bullied them – have they not been bullied? If not – why not? – discuss.
What is happening here is not just a defence of a leader. What we have been witnessing over this last 24 hours is a political punishment beating being administered by Lord Mandelson and others. It is designed to demonstrate to any other little person not to mess with the Labour machine that can and will crush you if you dare to cross it.
I just have this suspicion that for all the clean up, there may yet be one little tell tale stain that unravels the cover-up.