Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How to Cope With a Bullying Prescott

This is from a Mary Ann Sieghart column in The Times. I think it is fair to say that John Prescott got more than he bargained for.

It's not every day that the Deputy Prime Minister announces himself to you as a buffoon. This was just weeks after the 7/7 terrorist attacks and John Prescott was - supposedly - running the country while Tony Blair was away. I had written a column headlined “Prezza the buffoon should simply not be left in charge”, which asked why we indulged him when he was so blisteringly incompetent.

The next day, my phone rang. “I have the Deputy Prime Minister for you,” said a female voice. “It's your buffoon here,” came a more familiar male one. He harangued me for half an hour, saying that what I'd written was “bloody disgraceful” and that I was just a snob. “I'm crap at syntax,” he conceded finally. “I don't even know what the word means.” Then he demanded that I come in and see him.

That turned into the encounter that Prescott referred to on Tuesday in his Radio 4 On the Ropes interview with John Humphrys. I haven't written about it before, because I respected Prescott's right to talk to me off the record. Now that he has brought it up himself, though, I can at last tell the tale.

Signing in at Admiralty House, I heard a click-clack on the marble floor behind me. It was Prescott. I turned round to greet him, but he sailed past, saying gruffly to the security man, “She's with me”. At the lift I caught up with him, smiled and put out my hand, as you do. He scowled and refused to shake it.

He took me up to his vast office and let me stew there for 15 minutes until he came back with a couple of lackeys and a briefing file on me an inch thick. I knew his people had been asking questions about me. In a voluntary capacity, I was then vice-chair of a local regeneration programme, North Fulham NDC, which came under his department. A very senior official had e-mailed the programme director asking how committed I was, what decisions I had taken, which projects I had opposed. Prescott was clearly looking for ammo.

He launched into a tirade. His face reddened, his finger jabbed, he held up dog-eared pamphlets that he had written in the 1980s which apparently proved that he had a good brain. He boasted about his achievements in transport and local government, some of which I disputed. Once he began on regeneration, I asked whether he had managed to dig any dirt up about me on the NDC. “I don't know what you're talking about,” he blustered.

“I think you do,” I retorted. “Your officials have been asking questions about me and you've got a chapter heading there on your briefing pack: ‘Mary Ann Sieghart's involvement with North Fulham NDC'.”

Luckily it was close enough for me to read upside down. Caught red-handed, he pretended not to be able to find the right page. More bragging followed, until he demanded: “So admit it. You were wrong about me.” Given his emotional state, I thought it wise to be diplomatic. I said I was glad to have had the chance to hear his side of the story. “Why don't we leave it at that?” I suggested.

“No,” he said. “I want you to admit that you're wrong.” He was determined to bully me, and I was determined to resist.

“I'm not prepared to,” I replied. “I'm afraid you haven't persuaded me.”

“Right then,” he shouted. “I want you to justify every single word you wrote.”

“Are you quite sure?” I checked. This was going to be embarrassing. So I took a deep breath and began. “Well, you punched a voter and you stuck two fingers up in Downing Street. That shows that you lose your rag too easily - as evidenced today, in fact.”

“AS EVIDENCED TODAY?” he bellowed, his face by now beetroot, his fists clenched.

“Yes, I've been talking perfectly calmly while you've been shouting and jabbing your finger at me. I don't think that's appropriate behaviour in a Deputy Prime Minister.”

My column had gone on to disparage his performance at Prime Minister's Questions. “I know PMQs are very hard,” I admitted. “I'd be useless at them. But then I'm not Deputy Prime Minister and you are.”

The final straw was his inability to string a sentence together. “I've not had the fine education you had,” was his justification. “You're just a snob.”

“I'm not,” I retorted. “I have no problem with Alan Johnson or John Reid or David Blunkett. They all come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they didn't go to private schools and they still manage to articulate what they want to say. It's nothing to do with snobbery and nothing to do with your education.” If a man couldn't speak clearly, I said, it was a sign that he couldn't think clearly either.

That was when he finally lost it. “So what you're saying is I'm too thick to be Deputy Prime Minister?” he yelled at me.

His two apparatchiks stiffened. “Well, yes, I guess I am,” I said in a small voice.

On the pavement outside, I found myself shaking. I couldn't believe what I had just said to Prescott, but nor could I believe how bullyingly he had behaved.

He, meanwhile, raced off to No 10 to see Blair. I later heard that he said, “I've just had that Mary Ann Sieghart in”, to which Blair replied, “That's nice”. “No it wasn't,” said Prescott, still furious. “She told me I was too thick to be Deputy Prime Minister.” Blair did the worst possible thing and laughed. “Well, she's not the only one who thinks that,” he chuckled.

Oh well, at least he didn't hit her. Or try to [that's enough - ed]


Roger Thornhill said...

“Well, she's not the only one who thinks that,” he chuckled


Aye thankyou!

kris said...

come on people.

Who hasn't been carpeted. Big deal.

I've been bullied at work and it is a bit more serious than an outburst, a hissy-fit.

Bullying's a bit more insidious. It's the little things, that on their own look like nothing. it's a sustained attack to undermine your credibility, to isolate you and to pick you off.

Gordon Brown is not someone I'd be hanging out with - he obviously has issues and his breath probably stinks.

What's amazing is all the opposition parties dancing around like little school girls - like they've achieved something. lol.

I longed for the day I could cast my vote against Gordo - esp after his coup against Blair.

But all this gleeful bs makes me think I'll be holding my nose and voting Labour - because the Cons need more time to grow up.

The Purpleline said...

I wonder why people like Prescott never meet people like me if he tried that he would be eating through a straw (Not Jack)..

After working for many years in the City Treasury rooms he and Brown would not stand a chance

Sophie King said...

The Times piece is dated May 29 2008. Not exactly today's news.

JuliaM said...

"come on people.

Who hasn't been carpeted. Big deal."

There's a big, big difference in 'being carpeted' because of something you've done wrong, and being bullied because of something you're doing right...

JuliaM said...

"“Well, she's not the only one who thinks that,” he chuckled"


Didn't people say that when Blair went, it wouldn't be long before he'd be missed?

It wasn't, was it?

Maverick Ways said...

Across 4 channels yesterdy he tried to bully every interviewer with varying degress of success.

And this was Labour's response to bullying accusations.

Prescott is not clever enough or subtle enough to appreciate the irony.

Dual Citizen said...

Watched your thread on Facebook. The article is from 2008. Still very relevant though. :)

DespairingLiberal said...

Bloody hilarious!

It remains one of the stranger things about Blair that he kept Prezza in for so long as DPM - that stuff about him being needed to provide a faux-working-class front doesn't really hold up, as Mary-Ann Bighead says.

I think the sad truth is that Blair just kinda liked the guy and so, as with so many other Blair cronies, kinda, ya know, just sorta, ya know, wanted the guy around. "John's John". Great. Brilliant. Thanks Prime Minister. Lovely.

Craig Ranapia said...

Kris wrote:
I've been bullied at work and it is a bit more serious than an outburst, a hissy-fit.

Bullying's a bit more insidious. It's the little things, that on their own look like nothing. it's a sustained attack to undermine your credibility, to isolate you and to pick you off.

You mean like looking someone in the eye and blatantly lying about a document sitting between the two of you? Refusing to take ownership of your own behaviour, then getting verbally abusive and physically intimidating when your version of events isn't uncritically accepted?

I think it would be in rather poor taste to speculate on Prescott's mental health or whether he was ever fit for high public office. But I do have to question the political judgement of anyone who would cross the line between spin and flat out lying to a journalist. Dumb as ten pounds of fresh manure in a five pound bag.

richard.blogger said...

Iain, you really are a snob yourself, and have some sort of vendetta against the great Buffoon himself. Last night, Andrew Rawnsley was cowered by Paxman and verbally pummelled by Prescott. So what does Dale tweet?

"Rawnsley smashes Prescott. He's a thug dressed in a suit. I'm on Richard Bacon with him next Monday... Boy am i looking forward to it."

I cannot comment on the second sentence, after all, it seems somewhat libellous to call the political editor of the Observer a thug, but let's ignore that. Rawnsley clearly lost that bout. Clearly. He came back at the end with a few snide remarks about the Prescott memoir but hardly "smashes Prescott".

Clearly your judgenment is impaired, and reprinting Mary Ann Bighead's column shows that you simply don't have anything original to say.

Paddy said...

Wasn't in today's Times, she wrote that two years ago. Not that it really matters, it illustrates a point well.

Worst thing about Prescott's Newsnight appearance last night was him having a go at Rawnsley for protecting his sources anonymity. Unlike the Government who are quite happy to hang people like David Kelly out to dry when it helps to protect them...

DespairingLiberal said...

True Paddy.

One other aspect of this story though. Cameron is railing against bullying and calling for an investigation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't one of the most prominent characteristics of the Bullingdons at Oxford that they engaged in bullying of lesser "oinks", eg, kids not from their elite Eton circles? Just curious.

Unsworth said...

@ kris

So you think Ms Sieghart is/was one of Prescott's employees? If not then what gives Prescott the right to demand her presence and generally harangue her?

Isn't the significance of this report the fact that the fat poltroon Prescott believes he's entitled to treat and deal with people in this uncivilised manner? And is it just possible that the whole culture of the Government is exemplified by his behaviour?

Unsworth said...

@ richard blogger

Care to elaborate on the difference between 'impaired judgement' and 'disagreement'?

Moriarty said...

Sending Prescott out to crush a story about bullying at least proves that somebody in the Labour machine has a sense of humour. Who would they get to front up if Brown was accused of murder? Tony Soprano?

DespairingLiberal said...

Richard, I have just watched the Newsnight Rawnsley/Prescott segment and the followup debate with Woy, David Steele and Danny Finkelstein (the latter, hilariously, representing the Tories on the panel!) and by no stretch, impartially, could anyone conclude that Rawnsley was "cowered" by Paxman or "pummelled" by Prezza as you put it.

In fact, what came out was that the evidence he has to back up his accounts of Brown's conduct is very solid and he poured scorn on the attempts by Prescott and Mandleson to fog that. Most laughably when he pointed out that Prescott and his wife have both made money themselves by breaching New Labour confidences!

The shouting match between Rawnsley and Prescott reminded one that we are in the Last Days of the Empire.

Hattersley came over as a simpering idiot, Finkelstein as hopelessly stuck in right-wing automode. David Steele made the most sense on the panel, accurately describing the descent into gutter politics.

Brian said...

Why hasn't John Prescott attended the Chilcot Inquiry yet?

Ed said...

I remember reading the article back in 2008 and my opinion of Prescott has not changed one bit.

He is a very well balanced person, what with enormous chips on both shoulders.

igb said...

The amusing part is the the Deputy Prime Minister had so little work to do that he could spend an hour trying (badly) to improve his image with a journalist.

DespairingLiberal said...

Unsworth, as the Mail says today about the Tory's attitude to these allegations in an interesting article about Mrs Pratt:

"How different to the last General Election campaign, when Mr Cameron's predecessor, Michael Howard, said: 'The time has come to liberate the nation from the avalanche of political correctness, costly litigation, feeble justice and culture of compensation running riot in Britain today."

I suspect this is still the Tory view and after the Election we will hear little about the need for anti-bullying measures. Particularly once Andy Coulson is firmly ensconsed at Number 10!

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Kris, for once, I agree with you, about bullying, as far as you go, but it can take many forms. Creating an atmosphere of intimidation, such as the one MAS describes is just one of them.

I described it thus:

Bullying is like a slow freezing wind; pernicious, inveigling and ultimately incapacitating. It can take so many forms and is such a long game that it is inherently undectectable until it is too late.

kris said...

Gosh Wrinkled, I'm touched.

As for Unsworth - yes I did get that she was not an employee. Which makes the story more interesting. Surely it is open to her to ignore the "summons" until he had his Mars Bar and calmed down.

yawn. Have none of you people ever had the misfortune of working for the Public sector? Bullying, and I mean real bullying is absolute-effing-lootely rife.

Unsworth said...

@ Despairing Liberal

Setting aside the nature and length of the character assassination of Mrs Pratt for a moment, does the article in The Mail actually dispute or disprove any of the allegations about Brown?

You make assumptions as to the occupancy of No 10 which are entirely premature.

But to quote from the Mail article "However, the helpline office is two doors from the local Conservative Association and David Cameron endorses the charity on its website.", I'd make two points:

Does a vegan living two doors away from a butcher's shop thus endorse meat eating? And you'll probably understand that Cameron's endorsement was not of the charity as a whole but of the stated aims and intentions of the charity - not quite the same thing.

I note that the cretinous Woolas has now jumped on the bandwagon of personal vilification, rather than addressing the issue. Do these people all have something to hide?

Unknown said...

"This is from Mary Ann Sieghart's column in today's Times." No it isn't.

HampsteadOwl said...

The bit that intrigues me about Bighead's story was the "click-clack" she heard as Prescott came up behind her at admiralty house.

was he wearing high-heel shoes?

Roger Thornhill said...


No, hobnail boots.

Unsworth said...

@ Salisbury


furkan said...

Sounds like she is a snob. The difference between Prescott and the other MP's is that the "Northern accent" is deemed extra common. This is probably due to the fact that people get their views of Northerners, particularly Mancunians, from Coronation Street. A soap in which they play up the fact that they are common and Northern for comic effect. The title also makes you think of royalty and satiates a need in this class ridden society for us to look down on someone.

They only way to solve this would be to remove the monarchy: