Dianne Abbott faced a furious backlash today after suggesting that a former Black Rod could not have been bullied by ex-Speaker John Bercow because of his military background.
The shadow home secretary was criticised by Labour MPs and trade union leaders after appearing to back Mr Bercow in his row with David Leakey, the senior Parliamentary official.
Mr Leakey, a former British Army officer, has alleged that he and other staff members were ‘brutalised’ by Mr Bercow – who has rejected all of the claims made against him as ‘total and utter rubbish’.
In a tweet this morning that she later deleted, Ms Abbott claimed Mr Leakey’s time in the services meant it was ‘unlikely’ he was bullied by the ex-Commons Speaker.
Her comment was immediately condemned by Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union for senior civil servants.
He tweeted: ‘What a ridiculous comment from an experienced MP, demonstrating blind political partisanship and a complete failure to understand how power is abused in the workplace.’
Ms Abbott was also criticised by members of her own party as Dan Jarvis, a Labour MP and former soldier, said: ‘Having a distinguished service record does not preclude you from being a victim of workplace bullying.
‘All of us in the labour/trade union movement have a responsibility to create a climate where people can voice their concerns & not have their experiences dismissed out of hand.’
Diane Abbott, pictured at a protest in London on January 20, today claimed it was ‘unlikely’ David Leakey was bullied by John Bercow
Ms Abbott suggested Mr Leakey’s military service in the British Army meant he could not be bullied, a claim attacked by Dan Jarvis (below)
John Bercow yesterday dismissed bullying claims made against him as ‘total and utter rubbish’
A spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘If Diane deleted her tweet I think that probably indicates that she had concerns that it might be misinterpreted and so she probably thought better of it.
‘As a matter of course, all allegations of bullying and harassment should always be taken seriously and investigated and I’m sure Diane agrees with that.’
Veterans groups also criticised the remarks.
Dr Walter Busuttil, a former RAF Wing Commander who is now a consultant psychiatrist and medical director at Combat Stress, asked to meet Ms Abbott to discuss mental health of ex-services personnel.
‘At a time when we are seeking urgent funding from the government to protect services for veterans with mental health needs, we are very disappointed that an MP suggests that a veteran cannot be bullied or intimidated,’ he said.
‘The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces has published a report on bullying in the military.
‘At Combat Stress we commonly see veterans who have mental health problems due to being bullied in the military or even after their service.
‘They are trained to respect and follow their leaders and take the words and deeds of those in command seriously. So, when they believe that those in charge have stepped out of line, there’s usually a larger than expected impact.’
It comes amid a growing political row over whether Mr Bercow should be granted a peerage.
Mr Leakey said this morning that if the former Commons Speaker was elevated to the House of Lords ‘it would be a scandal that Parliament would struggle to live down’.
Dan Jarvis, a Labour MP and former soldier, said: ‘Having a distinguished service record does not preclude you from being a victim of workplace bullying’
But Ms Abbott tried to pour cold water on Mr Leakey’s bullying claims as she tweeted: ‘Allegations come from former parliamentary official David Leakey. He had been a Lieutenant General who served in Germany, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.
‘But claims he was bullied (i.e. intimidated and coerced) by John Bercow. Unlikely.’
Mr Leakey retired from the military in 2010 after a 40 year career in the armed forces. He then served as Black Rod from 2011 to 2018.
He recently submitted a dossier to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards outlining what he described as the ‘intolerable rudeness and explosive behaviour’ of the former Speaker.
But Mr Bercow hit back in an interview with Sky News yesterday as he rejected all of the accusations made against him and argued Mr Leakey had made the claims because he is ‘desperate to remain relevant’.
Mr Leakey, pictured right, accused the former Commons Speaker of ‘brutalising’ parliamentary staff
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is thought to have nominated Mr Bercow for a peerage after Downing Street decided to break with the convention of governments nominating former Commons speakers for positions in the upper chamber.
Responding to the allegations made against him by Mr Leakey, Mr Bercow said: ‘Total and utter rubbish from start to finish.
‘I noticed how hesitant David Leakey was in developing his case as though he was choosing his words carefully.
‘Total and utter rubbish. The first point is that David Leakey didn’t work for me, he wasn’t employed by me, he wasn’t an employee of the House of Commons.
‘He worked in and was the protocol officer of the House of Lords. He is in absolutely no position whatsoever to comment on my relations with my parliamentary colleagues of which is is completely and utterly ignorant.
‘He doesn’t know what my relations were my clerks. He has absolutely no intelligence on those matters whatsoever.
‘What we have got here is somebody who left the House who is thrashing around, desperate to remain relevant, popping up at every turn, trying to make himself seem very important, very centre stage, very at the heart of things in the way that I went about my work.
‘None of those things is true.’
Mr Leakey revealed earlier this month that he was submitting a complaint detailing allegations of bullying against Mr Bercow to the parliamentary authorities.
It followed a complaint by Lord Lisvane, formerly the Clerk of the House, which led Mr Bercow to ‘categorically’ deny having ever bullied anyone.