I HAVEN’T watched Question Time in aeons, and after last week’s effort, I remember why, dominated as it was, at a time of health, Brexit and economic crisis, by the question of Priti Patel’s “bullying” of civil servants. 

The honourable millionaire Sir Philip Rutnam, ex-Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, resigned because of Patel’s behaviour. Shame he didn’t feel so honourable about his overseeing of the Windrush scandal. 

Nevertheless, the Question Time panel, overseen by that political heavyweight Fiona Bruce, felt emboldened by the tale of bullying – this was an issue over which they could all show off their moral gravitas against the uncaring “Nasty Toreez”. I was waiting for someone to explain how these “howible” politicians make them “scweam and scweam and scweam”. 

Patel’s behaviour had apparently breached something called the “Ministerial Code”, a code that sounds ancient and grand but that actually emerged in the 1990s and was given its name by Tony Blair. Having abandoned socialism, this was a time when New Labour replaced politics with managerialism and government increasingly became an exercise in the “best practice” of codes and processes. 

The 1990s was also a time when the term “workplace bullying” first came into existence. Before this bullying was a term used almost exclusively when discussing the behaviour of children rather than adults. 

Partly assisted by the now impotent trade unions, the regulation of “bullying” shifted workplace difficulties away from collective issues and disputes between workers and bosses towards the managing of personal interactions. In the process, the workplace became a playground, overseen by a growing army of friendly-faced Human Resource managers. 

The Ministerial Code has no definition of bullying as such, but the government website takes you to an ACAS document that explains that bullying includes “offensive…. or insulting behaviour”, and Priti Patel was certainly both of these things. 

However, even if Patel is the worst manager in the world, is this really the issue of the day? In fact, is it an issue at all? Where is the politics in all of this beyond the inane alternative name calling about “nasty” politicians who “bully”? 

But then I guess this is to miss the point that in fact, talking about codes of behaviour, moralising about the “vulnerable” and standing up as an advocate of victims is in fact what today’s infantile politics has become.