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Priti Patel: Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson backs Home Secretary as independent bullying inquiry head quits after Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejects his findings

Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson has incurred the wrath of constituents for backing Home Secretary "bully" Priti Patel.

The Conservative – who earlier this week met Ms Patel to discuss tackling rural crime in her Hertford and Stortford constituency – said: "Like many women operating in a man’s world, you have to be strong and decisive."

Her statement on Twitter on Thursday (Nov 19) – during Anti Bullying Week 2020 – attracted more than 200 comments in response, unanimous in their condemnation. That's more than for her controversial support earlier this year for Dominic Cummings and for voting against free school meals in holidays.

Socially distanced: Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson meeting Home Secretary Priti Patel on Tuesday evening (Nov 17)
Socially distanced: Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson meeting Home Secretary Priti Patel on Tuesday evening (Nov 17)

Mrs Marson was accused of "condoning", "supporting", "defending" and "excusing" bullying – and labelled "disgusting", "shameful", "appalling" and "disgraceful".

A Cabinet Office inquiry found Ms Patel had "unintentionally" breached the ministerial code in her dealings with civil servants. Her "approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying", said the Government's independent adviser on standards, Sir Alex Allan, who cited examples of "shouting and swearing".

The inquiry was launched in March after the top civil servant at the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam, resigned, alleging that staff felt Ms Patel had "created fear". Sir Philip is suing for constructive dismissal.

Julie Marson campaigning with Boris Johnson in Dagenham for the 2017 General Election (43220180)
Julie Marson campaigning with Boris Johnson in Dagenham for the 2017 General Election (43220180)

Ministers are normally expected to resign if they break the code. But on Friday (Nov 20) Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected Sir Alex's findings and backed Ms Patel. In response, the adviser resigned.

His spokeswoman insisted the PM took bullying "very seriously" but "does not believe that Priti Patel is a bully", pointing to "mitigating circumstances" in Sir Alex's report and Ms Patel's "full and frank apology".

Ms Patel, who has been MP for Witham in Essex since 2010, said: "I am direct and have at times got frustrated", but added: "It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone." She said she was sorry "that my behaviour in the past has upset people".

The head of the civil servants' union FDA, Dave Penman, said: "What is the point of the investigation if actually what we're saying is it doesn't matter what evidence has been found, it doesn't matter what the PM's own adviser on the ministerial code says, if it's politically convenient for the PM to ignore it, he will ignore it?"

What Julie Marson said on Twitter and how just some of her followers responded...

Jo Linney: "Disgraceful response & insulting to all women who have succeeded in a man’s world. As a female I am disgusted by your response. You are condoning the Home Secretary’s bullying, because she’s female. Bullying is NEVER acceptable behaviour."

Ben Brown: "Hi @JulieMarsonMP. This is genuinely shameful. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been [for] a bullied staffer, only to have people like you publicly denounce their experiences and praise their bully, just because she was nice to you."

Susan Grossey: "As a working woman, I am horrified and ashamed by your comment. No competent boss, regardless of gender, should need to resort to bullying, or be allowed to. You reveal more about yourself than about women in general, I assure you."

Pip Ski: "Residents of Hertford and Stortford need to wake up quickly if you are aligning yourself so strongly with a bully. There's a massive difference between a strong female leader overcoming challenges in a 'man's world' and a disgraceful petty bully ruining lives."

Activist Lawyer: "What an absolutely disgusting defence of disgusting behaviour. Shameless – you should both resign."

Very Little Gravitas Indeed: "Defending and excusing bullies is a horrendous thing to do. If she is incapable of doing her stressful job without resorting to bullying people, then she should quit. Pushing people to the brink of suicide is NOT acceptable."

Claire Newell: "This has nothing to do with gender; many women leaders operate in a 'man's world' & succeed without ever resorting to bullying. The best leaders (men or women) understand the importance of empathy & humanity. The message you are sending is appalling."

Alister Scott: "So if someone (geenrally speaking) is found to be guilty of bullying, the nature of their job role and their gender are mitigating factors? Really? Really? Really? Really? Surely if anyone is found to have bullied, whoever they are they should face serious consequences."

Cate Wilson: "Disgraceful that you are standing up for a bully. Attempting to excuse Priti Patel’s bullying on the grounds that a) she has a big job and b) she has to show strength in a male-dominated sector is embarrassingly crass."

Alison Jasper: "I’m appalled that you’ve written this. Breaking the ministerial code is unacceptable. Bullying is unacceptable. Perhaps if you worked for her and she bullied you, you’d think differently."

Paul Dryden: "Disgusting support of bullying in the workplace. What’s the point of a standards investigation if you just ignore the finding and continue to behave abhorrently?"

Alex Quayle: "Condoning bullying in this way is appalling and demeans the efforts of hard-working women all over the globe who are the best of us, work hard and set an example to us all. Having a huge job doesn't mean she can bully. It is a privilege to be an MP, she has abused that privilege."

Sam R: "No, she’s a vile bully & you condoning such a person during anti bullying week is as despicable as it gets, but why would we expect anything different from you?"

Howard Entwistle: "Does that give her permission to bully people? Just asking as it's Anti Bullying Week. And if nothing happened why is Sir Philip Rutnam going to the trouble of being [sic] a constructive dismissal claim?"

Rachael Militon: "Make no mistake that it is completely possible to be an assertive and strong woman without intimidating, undermining and belittling others."

Adam Thompson: "Hi Julie, do you mind going round all our local primary schools and explaining to the kids why it is in fact okay to bully people sometimes?"

Andy Kelly: "I see you still haven't reached that point where you think 'You know what, that's too far for me to support it'."

Nick Child: "What you are basically saying is that she’s our bully so it’s all ok. It’s further evidence of moral bankruptcy at heart of this government. No shame, no integrity, no truth."

Reo Coaker: "Translation ‘she’s my mate, so bullying is fine.’ Another shameful stance taken by our glorious MP."

Mrs Marson did not respond to any of the tweets.

On Tuesday evening, she and Ms Patel met to discuss tackling rural crime in Hertford and Stortford.

"We discussed reviewing legislation and fines for barbaric hare and deer coursing," Mrs Marson tweeted. "This is a serious problem in our community and one that the Home Secretary and I are keen to solve."

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