Andrew Rawnsley’s “explosive” new book, The End of the Party, is serialised in the Observer today. What are the main accusations levelled, and what has the initial response been from those implicated?
Perhaps the most damaging allegation is that Sir Gus O’Donnell, the top Whitehall official, was so concerned by Brown’s behaviour that he intervened. The other allegations in today’s paper are mainly anecdotes around the same themes of aggression, paranoia, and bullying.
The main five allegations:
1. The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell — the country’s most senior civil servant — launched his own investigations into Brown’s bullying of staff. After looking into it, he told the Prime Minister: “This is no way to get things done.” O’Donnell took it upon himself to comfort members of staff and tell them not to take it personally.
2. Apparently Brown was consumed by paranoia after the cancelled election in 2007. After hearing about the loss of disks holding confidential data in November 2007, he grabbed Gavin Kelly, the deputy chief of staff, by the lapels of his jacket, and yelled: “They’re out to get me!”
3. Stewart Wood, a senior adviser on foreign affairs, received verbal abuse when he attempted to brief Brown about a Downing Street reception for European ambassadors. The Prime Minister reportedly yelled: “Why are you making me meet these fucking people?” before shoving Wood aside.
4. Rawnsley describes an aide cowering in fear that Brown was going to hit him after sharing some bad news while in the car, and writes that “the cream upholstery of the seat-back in front of Brown was flecked with black marks. When having a meltdown the Prime Minister would habitually stab it with his black marker pen.”
5. The Prime Minister’s relationship with Alistair Darling is portrayed as tense and troubled. Rawnsley writes that Brown flew into a rage after the Chancellor said in a 2008 interview that the economic crisis was the worst in 60 years. In a furious phone call, he told Darling that the crisis “will be over in six months”.
But what about the response so far?
The Prime Minister — unusually — engaged directly with the criticism, perhaps a sign of quite how damaging this could be. He told Channel 4:
Let me just say, absolutely clearly, so that there is no misunderstanding about that: I have never, never hit anybody in my life.
Asked whether he might have shoved someone, he said:
No, I don’t do these sorts of things.
Look, I was brought up — my father, I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone and I always think when you’re — in the heat of the moment you say things sometimes.
Of course you do get angry, mostly with yourself.
But I’m very strong-willed, I’m very determined. I think the country wants someone that will push things forward, and not allow things to be stagnant and stale, and every morning I get up with a determination to do my best for this country.
Pressed on whether he throws things, he said: “I throw the newspapers on the floor or something like that, but please . . .”
On the Andrew Marr Show this morning, Mandelson downplayed the allegations. About the picture painted of Brown, he said:
It’s not really one I recognised. The Observer is relaunching today, and all these colourful writers like Andrew, they’ve all got books to sell.
He doesn’t bully people, but he’s demanding of himself and people around him. He knows what he likes to do. He does not like taking no for an answer from anyone. Yes, there is a degree of impatience about the man, but what would you like, some sort of shrinking violet at the helm?
On the specific allegation in the book that Mandelson told Brown he was at risk of going down as the worst prime minister in postwar history, he said: “It is completely untrue”, and that Rawnsley had no way of knowing what had been said in private conversations.
The Cabinet Office
A Cabinet Office spokesman said:
It is categorically not the case that the Cabinet Secretary asked for an investigation of the PM’s treatment of No 10 staff.
These assertions have been put to the Cabinet Secretary who has rejected them.
In a comment piece for the Observer, Rawnsley pre-empts these denials by defending his methods.
I approached this subject acutely aware that a rumour is not the same as a fact. I set a rule that I would not publish anything about an episode involving abusive behaviour unless I had secured utterly reliable accounts. Some incidents which came to my attention have been excluded even when I was convinced they were true because I was not quite satisfied with the evidence for them. Investigation of other incidents secured eyewitness accounts from impeccable sources of shocking episodes, some of which are included in today’s extract. Only once I was absolutely satisfied about the veracity of a story did it go in the book. The sources are 24-carat.