Politicians who bleat about being bullied should grow up, says Kent academic

The Houses of Parliament

Politicians should learn to deal with colleagues’ behaviour rather than complain they are victims of bullying, says Frank Furedi.

The University of Kent sociologist and author argues that what was once seen as the rough and tumble of politics is now defined as a culture of bullying and victimhood.

His comments come as politicians of various parties and even House of Commons speaker John Bercow face accusations of bullying.

“The politicisation of personal behaviour has escalated to the point where the normal conflicts of public life are often conducted in personal terms,” Prof Furedi said.

“Throughout history, political conflict and struggle put public figures under pressure. They had to grow thick skins to deal with it all.

Frank Furedi: Politicians need thicker skins

“Able politicians learned not to take criticism and the abuse hurled at them personally and, through that process, they acquired the habit of leadership.

“Today’s intolerance towards the rough and tumble of political life discourages public figures from developing the skills and coping mechanisms necessary to deal with adversity and with the threats facing society.”

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams quit as shadow work and pensions minister earlier this month due to allegations against her.

Meanwhile, leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom has called for a probe into bullying in the Houses of Parliament.

Prof Furedi went on: “The campaign to turn parliament into a bully-free zone is bound to fail. Experience shows that when anti-bullying procedures are introduced, claims of victimisation expand.

“The perception of being bullied is so subjective that the acts, words or behaviour of an assertive individual can easily fit into this category.

“And the interpretation of personal conflict in terms of medical harm lowers the capacity of adults to deal with the troubles of life and diminishes their capacity for resilience.

“Society’s preoccupation with bullying has encouraged many adults to embrace the identity of a bullied victim. Such an attitude is bad enough in normal life, but in the domain of politics its impact is far more corrosive.

“The proposed inquiry into bullying in parliament could do worse than investigate how grown-up politicians have come to conceive of themselves effectively as children in a playground.”


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