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Bullying: A Priti Disguise

“You will never bask in the light of your own glory if you continue to throw shade at others”– 14/11/20

The Priti Patel bullying affair and Anti-Bullying Week

Last week was Anti-Bullying Week and despite having the urge to write, I refrained from the topic. A mixture of personal anxiety and fear really escalated when it was announced that the Prime Minister had decided to take no action against Secretary of State, Priti Patel. Upon hearing this, I was midway through planning Anti-Bullying Week PowerPoint and couldn’t believe what I had heard.

Having never met Patel or ever intended to cross paths with her, the right-wing commenators like Allison Pearson came to her rescue. Many Tory MPs tweeted in solidarity and the golden BAME MP, who many still believe represents all BAME people. I am not a political writer but any position of platform calls for us to call out injustice as we see it, right? In a very unprecedented year where many of us have learnt how to write hard and speak up about what hurts, the bruises of bullying don’t disappear when we change the channel or skip through stories on our newsfeed. There are real victims out there who have lost their jobs, careers they loved, friends and even their lives. We must honour and respect these people and their stories. Anti-Bullying Week cannot be paid lip service to, it must be a sustained cultural change to treat others in a kinder, more compassionate and understanding way.

A sincere apology would have gone a long way but again, we were met with a sheer lack of empathy from the Secretary of State. Image: The Guardian

So, Priti Patel broke the Ministerial Code by swearing and shouting at her staff. A report which sat on Boris Johnson’s desk for months and had gathered dust before the PM decided to throw out any wrongdoing. Claims of Patel’s behaviour as being “unintentional” became the media soundbite. Imagine “unintentionally” bullying someone. In an era many have aptly labelled as the “year of anti-expert”, where Doctors are being told to mind their tone, Scientists are silenced and government advisors are allowed to make 260 mile round trips to have the sight tested during a national lockdown – these are truly unprecdenedted times. The “protetctive ring” this government claimed to throw around care homes is now firmly around Priti Patel. Even during her “apology”, the sinister smirks and lack of empathy was written all over her face. The same Secretary of State who has yet to be fully accountable for illegal meetings with Israeli officials, but hey, perhaps as Musa Okwonga notes, her position as the go between, the gatekeeper for Brexit Britain is the reason for her popularity. The public outrage at the Patel bullying affair has little to do with, as many MPs have stated, her being a successful BAME MP. The frustration and anger really sits at her door because of her lack of empathy, her incompetence, her compulsive lying and sheer arrogance. A sincere apology was never going to be the quick fix option but it could have restored some respect from the situation.

I want to talk about bullying and the legacy of the bullying scandal in Parliament. To hear that Patel was “too short” to bully anyone left me in utter disarray. I think back to the days of seeing a strapping 6ft PE teacher being brought to tears by his Head who was significantly smaller. Bullying is often tacit, covert and rarely in plain sight. A playground bully will rarely throw their weight around when teachers are watching. Bullying can take place in multiple ways and albeit not an exclusive list, I have created this in relation to education settings.

• Inconsistent standards between you and your peers,

• Threats to job security,

• You are left feeling isolated,

• Unrealistic targets set and obstacles at every turn.

• Your ideas and work are publicly criticised,

• Sporadic meetings which give you no time to prepare or gather thoughts,

• Feeling intimidated by senior staff or management,

• Made to feel guilty for taking time out for yourself and your family,

• No confidentiality, the idea that ‘everyone knows my business’

• Gaslighting – your sanity is questioned therefore you’re deemed ‘inept’ in making rational judgments.

Having used this list previously, it is important to reflect and take lessons away from the Priti Patel situation.

Three Lessons

Depoliticising the matter

When it was announced that Priti Patel would face no further action, my heart sank. After a torrid academic year where my line manager targeted me using every malicious trick in the book, I found myself feeling her eerie presence again. We only need to Google the statistics or read through the heart breaking thread on Twitter posted by Scott Pughsley, to see how entrenched and widespread bullying is in education. Bullying is a political issue. Our nations leaders should be upholding exemplary professional conduct and stamp out malpractice. What Boris Johnson has done is depoliticise bullying and fail to act decisively to eradicate it from his party. The irony of this happening during Anti-Bullying Week where even the Education Secretary himself posted a anti-bullying message, this just speaks volumes about the two-tiered system of justice and accountability in British society. Some are held accountable, others, well their friends in high places will throw a protective ring around them. The Patel bullying affair has been depoliticised, downplayed and brushed under the carpet setting yet another rancid precedence.

A rancid precedence

So, what type of precedence does the Prime Minister of this country set by failing to sanction a member of his cabinet for allegations of bullying? How would a Head teacher or senior manager in any line of work deal with bullying? Do they back their mates and silence concerns and victims? It was Anti-Bullying Week for crying out loud! Explicitly it is saying that bullying is ok and the victims don’t matter. When I was being bullied, something similar did happen where my Head would repeatedly tell me the perpetrator was, “an outstanding leader and would never do such a thing.” When our experiences are trivialised and or dismissed, what type of precedence is set? We are fully aware, without a shadow of a doubt, that in the current political jungle, it is very much us vs. them. The chasm between rhetoric and reality is enormous and token hashtags or solidarity comments in favour of holidays or significant weeks mean absolutely nothing. Why refer to Anti-Bullying week when your silence towards bullying is actually complicit? A rancid precedence is set. What do we tell our young people? What type of example does this set for our youth? That it is ok to bully as long as you come from a background of socio-economic prestige? It is frightening.

Stop talking about bullying

The number of times I have been labelled as “negative” for referring to my personal experiences of bullying. It can and does sound like a broken record but it’s my story and the story of many, many others. When we shed light on our own experiences, we empower others to do the same. We give light to others and provide them with chance to also voice their concerns. The Priti Patel bullying affair has raised many questions about how we treat one another. Bullying in the workplace has, for so long, remained the unawakened elephant in the room. It does happen and can happen in any walk of our professional or personal lives. I thought, “Not a chance, it will never happen to me.” When I was bullied at work, I was in vertigo and out of sheer fear, silenced. Not having a voice is scary, it hurts. Looking back, I can see the damage that was caused but more adamant than ever that being “negative” often means revealing unspoken truths – we do have an issue with the culture of bullying in education. I will stop talking about bullying when we begin to realign ourselves with exemplary professional standards, unlike our Secretary of State. As educators, we must do better.

In Summary

The Priti Patel affair has left the majority of us perplexed, shocked but not really that surprised. The culture of bullying in professional organisations isn’t something we can downplay. The saddest and deepest irony of the entire situation is that it unfolded during Anti-Bullying Week where we should be advocating and demonstrating good speech, good actions and good intentions. The victims of bullying are often rendered invisible and the uneasy precedence set by the PM for failing to hold Patel accountability is particularly disturbing.

I still urge anyone who has been bullied to seek support, never allow others to trivialise their hardships and to continue seeking justice. We must honour our stories and continue speaking out. Bullies are hiding behind a Priti disguise.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

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