The Observer view on the government’s view on bullying and cronyism in its ranks | Observer editorial

Refusing to sack Priti Patel is symptomatic of Boris Johnson’s approach to leading the country

‘Bullying is never acceptable,” the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said on Thursday in a video to mark anti-bullying week. Unless you are a member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet, that is. Later that day, the findings of an investigation by the government’s independent ethics adviser into allegations of bullying by the home secretary, Priti Patel, were published. It found that she had bullied civil servants and had broken the ministerial code.

But Johnson decided to disregard the findings of this report and keep Patel in post, prompting Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on ministerial code, to resign. Conservative ministers and MPs have been sent out on the airwaves to demean themselves by defending the indefensible. They have insulted our intelligence by telling us that because the bullying was “unintentional” it is not a resigning matter; that Patel is “direct” and “passionate” – excuses that bullies have long deployed in defence of unacceptable conduct; that an employee’s poor performance is a “balancing requirement” when considering allegations of bullying. At the heart of their defence is the assumption that bullying is tolerable if perpetrated by a political ally. Neither Johnson nor Patel has acknowledged the finding that she bullied staff or properly apologised to the civil servants she bullied. And there are reports that Johnson put pressure on Allan to water down the conclusions of his report, which No 10 has not denied, a very serious breach of due process.

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