Gordon Brown v the National Bullying Helpline

Is Christine Pratt for real?

The bullying charities seem to be, er, bullying each other. Bullying UK has called on Christine Pratt, the boss (and founder) of the National Bullying Helpline, to resign. When will Beatbullying and BulliesOut join in on this latest confected controversy?

Actually, (bad) jokes aside, I think Bullying UK is right. This woman Pratt (don't worry, I won't call her a prat; that would be too easy) has no credibility left. How on earth did she think she could reveal confidential information about callers to her helpline, on national television, and expect to get away with it?

One of her patrons, Professor Carey Cooper, has now resigned, saying that she "breached confidentiality", and another patron -- the Tory MP Ann Widdecombe -- has said that the charity should have stayed out of the row. Talking of the Tories, why does Pratt pretend that her numerous links to the Conservative Party don't matter? Is she barking?

Questions have been raised as to whether the NBH is even a functioning charity -- but this, as Adam Bienkov points out, didn't ring "alarm bells at the BBC" over the weekend, as they gave extensive coverage to her claims. Shame on them.

Hillary Clinton once referred to the "vast right-wing conspiracy" behind the attacks on her (philandering) husband. She had a point. So are we now seeing something similar vis-à-vis Brown? I referred to the right-wing echo chamber in a column not long ago and, looking at the Sun's headline today ("The Prime Monster"), I can't help but think I was spot on.

But could this all backfire on the PM's critics, in the style of the Sun/Jacqui Janes/letter-writing "row" back in November? I suspect it might. And as I said on LBC yesterday, and as Jackie Ashley writes in the Guardian today, the idea that anyone out there will change their vote because of Andrew Rawnsley's gossipy book is nonsense.

The Rawnsley allegations about Brown remain exactly that -- allegations. The Cabinet Office has denied that the Cabinet Secretary called for an investigation of the PM's treatment of his staff, and former secretaries like Fiona Gordon have rejected the claims of bullying and mobile-phone-throwing inside No 10.

Meanwhile, one bullying case (from 2008) has been highlighted and proven at a London employment tribunal in recent months -- though largely ignored by the press. The bully? Andy Coulson, the then editor of the News of the World and now chief spinner for the Tory leader, David Cameron.

Downing Street secretaries, beware -- he's heading in your direction!

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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