The head of one of Britain's largest anti-bullying charities revealed yesterday that its helpline had taken calls from Downing Street staff complaining about the atmosphere at work.
Christine Pratt, of the National Bullying Helpline, said she had “seen red” when she heard ministers deny that there was a problem with the workplace culture inside No 10, after a new book catalogued a series of incidents in which Gordon Brown is alleged to have lost his temper and shouted at staff.
The book, by the political commentator Andrew Rawnsley, claimed there had been so many complaints that the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell warned the Prime Minister about the treatment of staff.
That story was officially denied by the Cabinet Office. “It is completely untrue to say that the Cabinet Secretary ever gave the PM a verbal warning about his behaviour,” a spokeswoman said. The Prime Minister's spokesman said of the book: “These malicious allegations are totally without foundation and have never been put to No 10.”
But Rawnsley said he was “100% sure”, based on first-hand evidence, that Sir Gus had looked into Mr Brown's behaviour and personally warned him to calm down.
Mrs Pratt, who founded the helpline after being a workplace victim herself, accused ministers of “going into denial”. She said: “I have personally taken a call from staff in the Prime Minister's office, staff who believe they are working in a bullying culture and that it has caused them some stress.
“I am not saying Gordon Brown is a bully. But I am appalled at the outright denial that is going on without due process being followed.” Mrs Pratt said there had been “three or four” contacts with the helpline from Downing Street staff in recent years.
Her remarks were seized on by the Tories, whose spokesman said: “This development suggests that there could be a cover-up at the heart of government over the Prime Minister's behaviour.”
The shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said the allegations in Rawnsley's book suggested that Mr Brown is not “cut out” for the highest office.
Earlier, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson defended the Prime Minister. “I don't think he so much bullies people as he is very demanding,” he said.
“There is a degree of impatience about the man but what would you like — some sort of shrinking violet at the helm of the Government when we are going through such stormy waters?”