Peter Hough

Peter Hough
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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Can a politician be bullied? Is it possible - or not?

The subject of bullying hit the headlines a few days ago with claims that Vanessa Feltz had 'bullied' a student who was doing work experience on her radio show.

When Beverley Nesbit said she had never heard of the W. B. Yeats, Feltz ordered her to write a 2,000 word essay on the poet. The girl didn't produce the essay, so Felz insisted she should go to the library and get it done. Instead the media student locked herself in a toilet cubicle for two hours, crying, and texting her mother.

Feltz's actions might seem a little bizarre, but were they bullying? I've thought for some time it's a term that's been over-stretched, and used to describe any sort of assertive behaviour of one person towards another. My Collins English Dictionary defines a bully as; 'a person who hurts, persecutes, or intimidates weaker people'.

Bullying was once perceived as sustained physical and psychological abuse. What often passes for bullying these days was then described as 'being picked on'. It was a learning experience, giving the victim the opportunity to acquire coping skills.

All that Feltz was doing was what any English teacher would have done discovering that a pupil didn't know who Yeats was. Go away, do some research, and write an essay. This wasn't bullying, it was the teacher doing her job. In that sense, was Feltz being maternal rather than bullying? Was she punishing the girl, or trying to educate her?

WARNING: Here come a generalisation.

The problem is that modern kids are brought up by parents and the state to believe that they are beyond criticism. A generation ago, if a teacher was critical of a child, the parent would support that professional assessment, and not take it as a personal attack. More often now, the parent will blame the teacher, saying 'she doesn't like my child'. Over recent years teachers have had to follow a policy of ignoring pupils failings and only highlighting their achievements - even if they're meagre. These kids then go out into the real world unprepared for criticism and rejection. They haven't been taught how to deal with it, and overcome it. They're not street wise.

Can a politician be bullied by another politician? At the same time as the Vanessa Feltz story hit the headlines, I was made aware of a charge of bullying by one member against another on Sefton Council.

The complainant claimed that an opposition councillor had publicly bullied them 'over many years'. With the backing of their group leader, they put in a complaint to Sefton's Standards Board, where the allegations were heard behind closed doors - the accused totally unaware, and given no opportunity to refute the allegations.

The first he heard of it was a letter from the Acting Head of Corporate Legal Services. Bizarrely, after admitting that the committee found no evidence for an investigation, he then went on to remind him of the Code of Conduct, as if there was a case to answer. Had he been bullied into writing this letter?

So, was the councillor bullied, or were they just hurt and embarrassed because their political short comings had been publicly exposed? This person is something of a serial complainer, having accused another councillor of bullying some time ago.

Is the truth that this member was less articulate and knowledgeable compared to their tormentor? Did the person decide that the only way they could get back at him was to brand him a bully, and then, hopefully, this would stop him challenging them in public?

In effect, the accused had been bullied into silence.

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