Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

Public school mandarin vs Essex girl: How Cambridge …

Public school mandarin vs Essex girl: How Cambridge …

Public school mandarin vs Essex girl: How Cambridge-educated Sir Alex Allan stormed off because Boris refused to sack comprehensive-schooled Priti Patel over ‘bullying’ claims

  • Sir Alex Allan, 69, dramatically quit yesterday amid the Priti Patel bullying row
  • He was educated at Harrow and then Cambridge before joining the Civil Service
  • The senior mandarin was chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee in 2007-11
  • Sir Alex took the post of Boris Johnson’s standards adviser ‘out of duty’
  • Friends say it was ‘inevitable’ he would resign after his findings were overruled 

Boris Johnson‘s former standards tsar was a Cambridge-educated career civil servant who scaled the ranks under five prime ministers and was unlikely to stay on after the PM refused to sack Priti Patel for her alleged bullying.

Sir Alex Allan, 69, dramatically quit yesterday after Johnson overruled his conclusion that the Home Secretary breached the ministerial code.

He was educated at Harrow and then studied maths at Clare College, Cambridge before following in his footsteps – Robert Allan, a Tory MP and later peer who held a junior ministerial position – and joining the Civil Service. 

Sir Alex, described by friendly colleagues as ‘austere’ and ‘buttoned-up’, moved to No10 and served in John Major’s private office.

Managing the transition to a Labour government in 1997, he selected a diplomatic posting to Australia before he became chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee from 2007 to 2011, a role which saw him assessing the work of MI5 and MI6.

The 69-year-old is fit and active and known as a keen runner, sailor and cyclist who once windsurfed down the Thames in a suit to beat a train strike.  

He made a splash – literally – when he windsurfed down the River Thames to Parliament dressed in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat, carrying a briefcase and brolly, in order to get around a train strike in the Eighties.

The stunt ended with him falling into the water. Sir Alex, then working at the Treasury, dreamt up the unusual way of commuting from his home in Putney, south-west London, with a neighbour who was a news photographer.  

Friends told The Times that he took the role as Johnson’s adviser on ministerial interests out of duty, and was likely to resign when his key finding in a Cabinet Office probe into Patel’s alleged bullying was rejected by the PM. 

Sir Alex is thought to have been infuriated by Johnson’s decision to stand by Essex girl Patel and call on Tory MPs to ‘form a square around the Pritster’.

The Cabinet Office has now confirmed that Sir Alex, 60, is staying on in his capacities as chair of the QC Appointments Panel and non-executive director of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).

As chairman of the independent Selection Panel, Sir Alex recommends QCs for appointment to the Lord Chancellor who – in turn – advises the Queen.    

The revelation comes as high-ranking public servants including Lord Clarke and the former permanent secretary of Home Office condemned Ms Patel’s alleged bullying of staff across three different government departments.  

A Cabinet Office investigation was launched in March over the claims, after Sir Philip Rutnam, the Home Office permanent secretary, resigned.  

Sir Philip accused Ms Patel of a ‘vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign’ against him. He is claiming constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.  

Sir Alex Allan dramatically quit yesterday after the Prime Minister overruled his conclusion that the Home Secretary breached the ministerial code

Sir Alex Allan dramatically quit yesterday after the Prime Minister overruled his conclusion that the Home Secretary breached the ministerial code 

Boris Johnson

Priti Patel

The Oxford-educated career civil servant and former intelligence chief is said to have been infuriated by Boris Johnson’s decision to stand by Essex girl Priti Patel, the home secretary, and called on other Tory MPs to ‘form a square around the Pritster’.

It follows allegations that Mr Johnson unsuccessfully pressured Sir Alex to water down his report on the Home Secretary’s behaviour.   

A Whitehall source told the BBC that Sir Alex resisted attempts to make the findings more ‘palatable’. Downing Street did not deny the claims. 

Today, Sir David Normington, former Home Office permanent secretary and former first civil service commissioner, suggested that Mr Johnson’s lack of action indicated he wasn’t willing to protect victims and uphold high standards in public life.  

He said: ‘It seems to me there needs to be a recognition from her and the PM that she was found to have bullied staff, possibly in three departments, not just the Home Office. That is completely unacceptable.

‘Although it was good she apologised, it wasn’t an apology for bullying, there has been no acknowledgement from her or the PM that she bullied. 

‘In fact, the PM has simply put aside the findings of the report and the independent advisor Alex Allen that she is a bully. You shouldn’t have bullies in government.

CV check: Oxford-educated Sir Alex Allan vs Essex girl Priti Patel 

Sir Alex Allan

Sir Alex Allan is a career civil servant and former intelligence chief who once found himself at the heart of a mystery that led to claims he had been the target of an assassination attempt.

The 69-year-old was chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee from 2007 to 2011, a role which saw him assessing the work of MI5 and MI6.

He was fit and active and known as a keen runner, sailor and cyclist who once windsurfed down the Thames in a suit to beat a train strike.  

He made a splash – literally – when he windsurfed down the River Thames to Parliament dressed in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat, carrying a briefcase and brolly, in order to get around a train strike in the Eighties.

The stunt ended with him falling into the water. Sir Alex, then working at the Treasury, dreamt up the unusual way of commuting from his home in Putney, south-west London, with a neighbour who was a news photographer.

The photos appeared in the Evening Standard under the headline ‘Making it to work… a Treasury wet’.  

At the time, there was controversy within Margaret Thatcher’s government about the direction of economic policy, with those urging more reflation tagged ‘wets’. 

The incident also gave a clue to another of Harrow and Cambridge-educated Sir Alex’s great passions: American rock band the Grateful Dead.

Their skull and lightning logo was emblazoned on the sail of his board.  

But in July 2008 Sir Alex, a former Downing Street private secretary to both John Major and Tony Blair, was found unconscious at his West London home.

The JIC chief – also known as a fan of the 60s band the Grateful Dead – lapsed into a coma and was described as ‘very, very seriously ill’. 

Wildlife painter Dominique Salm, who rented his late wife’s art studio in his home, told neighbours he was discovered with ‘blood everywhere’.

Her account added to speculation that Mr Allan may have been targeted by a foreign spy agency.

He was put under police guard in hospital while toxicology tests were carried out at his home.

Speculation focused on whether he had been targeted by terrorists or a hostile foreign government and questions were raised about his personal security.

Mr Allan’s wife, artist Katie Clemson, died of cancer aged 58 in 2007 and he continued to live in what was described as ‘an artist’s enclave’ on the Thames near Hammersmith.

He had also published his personal details on his own website, including his address, telephone number and details of family and friends.

However, Government officials tried to play down the investigation into his collapse, which was overseen by Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command.

No details of the police inquiry’s conclusions were officially released, but Whitehall sources were quoted at the time blaming it on pneumonia and insisted it was ‘non-suspicious’.  

Priti Patel

Patel was born in London to a Ugandan-Indian family. She was educated at Keele University and the University of Essex. 

Inspired to get involved in politics by the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she was involved with the Referendum Party before switching allegiance to the Conservatives. 

She worked for the public-relations consultancy firm Weber Shandwick for several years, during which period she lobbied for the tobacco and alcohol industries. 

Seeking a political career, she unsuccessfully contested Nottingham North at the 2005 general election. After David Cameron became Conservative leader, he recommended Patel for the party’s ‘A-List’ of prospective parliamentary candidates. 

She was elected MP for Witham, a new seat in Essex, at the 2010 general election, before being re-elected in 2015, 2017 and 2019. 

Under Cameron’s government, Patel was appointed Minister of State for Employment and was vice-chair of the Conservative Friends of Israel. She attracted attention for her socially conservative stances. 

Following Cameron’s resignation, Patel supported Theresa May’s bid to become Conservative leader; May subsequently appointed Patel Secretary of State for International Development. 

In 2017, Patel was involved in a political scandal involving unauthorised meetings with the Government of Israel which breached the Ministerial Code, ending her tenure as International Development Secretary. 

Under Johnson’s premiership, she became Home Secretary in July 2019.

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‘I don’t think she recognises even now that she has bullied and more important the PM has ignored and set aside a report that said she was a bully.

‘We have to put ourselves in the position of the bullied, no one has spoken up for them, some of them are junior staff who will be sitting there today thinking their voice is not being heard and that they can’t rely on the PM to stand up for them.

‘The facts are very clear, we have a report and Alex Allan, the independent advisor, has said she is a bully and has broken the ministerial code and in all other circumstances in the past the PM would then have taken action but instead he’s put that aside.

‘That’s what’s so concerning about this: the system depends on the PM standing up for standards in public life and taking action when his or her ministers breach those standards. For the first time as far as I can remember we have a PM who doesn’t seem willing to stand up for high standards in public life.

‘I’m sure there was a conversation between the PM and Allan but the important thing for all of us to understand is that Allan did not change his report, he felt absolutely confident with his findings and those findings were that the code had been broken.’

Ex-minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the programme in response: ‘Knowing Priti, I would say if there was someone there she would have been the first person to say ‘for goodness sake, come in for a coffee’. She would absolutely be the first to do that.

‘Being secretary of state is a pretty busy world, we’re very protected by our private offices. I was always very clear with my wonderful private office and my private secretary that anybody should feel free to come and talk to me about anything, mostly because it’s very difficult to see in to the administrative machinery of your department, that’s not where a secretary of state sits.’  

Former home secretary Ken Clarke has said sometimes a minister has to be ‘robust’ with civil servants, but he condemned any form of bullying.

‘You don’t shout at them or have rows with them, but you’ve got to hold your ground – you take their advice, you discuss it with them properly,’ he said during a Times Radio interview.

‘But you do have to realise that in the end you make the decisions and the department does deliver what you have decided furthers the Government’s policy.

‘Junior officials, occasionally they will annoy you but in every walk of life the boss should not start bullying the younger, newer people who work for him or her.’ 

Lord Clarke described Home Office civil servants as ‘resistant to change’ in a discussion about the Priti Patel bullying investigation.

‘I felt they were a bit inclined to say ‘well that’s not quite the way we do things here’,’ he told Times Radio. Ken Clarke was Conservative home secretary from 1992 to 1993 before he became chancellor.

‘If they agreed with what you wanted them to do, they were doing it perfectly efficiently and quickly. Where they didn’t agree, you did have to check that actually they were getting it on with anyway,’ he added.

‘Getting your way and making some progress on your policies was quite difficult sometimes, but apart from that the ability of people was very high.’

He blamed the media for the fact ‘far too many’ members of the public now think politicians are corrupt. ‘That’s completely, grotesquely untrue – the politicians and civil servants are overwhelmingly people of the highest motivation, doing things for the right reasons,’ he said.  

Announcing his resignation on Friday, Sir Alex said in a statement: ‘I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgment on whether actions by a minister amount to a breach of the ministerial code.

‘But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the code.’ 

Offering what she described as an ‘unreserved, fulsome apology’, Ms Patel seized on Sir Alex’s finding that she received no feedback on the impact of her behaviour.

But Sir Philip Rutnam, who quit as the Home Office’s permanent secretary after accusing Ms Patel of a ‘vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign’ against him, contested this.

He said she was advised not to shout and swear at staff the month after her appointment in 2019 and that he told her to treat staff with respect ‘on a number of further occasions’. 

Sir Philip also said he was not interviewed for the inquiry despite him having launched a constructive dismissal claim at an employment tribunal.

Meanwhile, the Times reported two unnamed senior Whitehall officials saying that the Prime Minister tried and failed to get Sir Alex to tone down his report to find there was no clear evidence of bullying.

Downing Street did not deny the report, with a No10 spokesman instead saying: ‘As you would expect, the Prime Minister spoke to Sir Alex Allan to further his understanding of the report.

‘Sir Alex’s conclusions are entirely his own.’ 

Normally ministers are expected to resign if they breach the code but the Prime Minister makes the final decision and deemed it not a resigning matter.

But in the wake of Sir Alex’s resignation, Lord Evans of Weardale, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, branded it ‘deeply concerning’.   

In a WhatsApp message to MPs after the announcement yesterday Mr Johnson said it was ‘time to form a square around the Pritster’ and many MPs have been defending her record in the face of growing anger.

Sir Alex said Ms Patel’s frustrations had seen her shout and swear in some instances. In his published advice, he said: ‘She is action-orientated and can be direct. 

‘The Home Secretary has also become – justifiably in many instances – frustrated by the Home Office leadership’s lack of responsiveness and the lack of support she felt in DfID (the now defunct Department for International Development) three years ago.

‘The evidence is that this has manifested itself in forceful expression, including some occasions of shouting and swearing.

‘This may not be done intentionally to cause upset, but that has been the effect on some individuals.’  

Offering what she described as an 'unreserved, fulsome apology', Ms Patel seized on Sir Alex's finding that she received no feedback on the impact of her behaviour

Offering what she described as an ‘unreserved, fulsome apology’, Ms Patel seized on Sir Alex’s finding that she received no feedback on the impact of her behaviour

Mr Johnson is facing allegations that he pressured his standards advisor to water down his report on Priti Patel's bullying of staff to make the findings more 'palatable'

Mr Johnson is facing allegations that he pressured his standards advisor to water down his report on Priti Patel’s bullying of staff to make the findings more ‘palatable’

Sir Alex added: ‘My advice is that the Home Secretary has not consistently met the high standards required by the Ministerial Code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect.

‘Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that extent her behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally.’

But in leaks from his report, Sir Alex laid significant criticism at the door of civil servants who worked with Ms Patel, the MP for Witham in Essex.

WHO SAID WHAT? 

Priti Patel: ‘I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone. I am very grateful for the hard work of thousands of civil servants who help to deliver the Government’s agenda.

‘I care deeply about delivering on the commitments we have made to the people of this country and I acknowledge that I am direct and have at times got frustrated.

‘I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his support. The Permanent Secretary and I are working closely together to deliver on the vital job the Home Office has to do for the country.’

Sir Alex Allan: ‘I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgement on whether actions by a Minister amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code. 

‘But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Code.’ 

Home Office Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft: ‘Sir Alex Allan’s findings make difficult reading, including for the Civil Service.

‘The Home Secretary and I are committed to working together to improve the Home Office and build the strongest possible partnership between Ministers and officials based on support, candour, safety to challenge, mutual respect and professionalism. Relationships between Ministers and officials have improved considerably.

Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary:  ‘The Prime Minister does personally take these allegations exceedingly seriously.

‘He loathes bullying. He takes it very seriously and recognises that it is very difficult for people to come forward and raise concerns. It is a brave thing to do. He knows that.

‘He did say that he would not tolerate bullying. He hasn’t tolerated bullying. It is not his belief that Priti Patel is a bully.’ 

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‘The Home Office was not as flexible as it could have been in responding to the Home Secretary’s requests and direction’ he wrote.

‘She has legitimately not always felt supported by the department. In addition, no feedback was given to the Home Secretary of the impact of her behaviour, which meant she was unaware of issues that she could have otherwise addressed.’ 

It is understood Sir Alex went on to say that Ms Patel had ‘also become justifiably in many incidences frustrated by the Home Office leadership’s lack of responsiveness and the lack of support she felt’.

He noted that there has been an improvement in the relationship between the Home Secretary and her officials in recent months. The Home Secretary has always denied wrongdoing, and sources close to her last night insisted no formal complaints were ever made.   

Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office, said that relationships between officials and ministers at the department had ‘improved considerably’ but admitted the report into the Home Secretary’s conduct made for ‘difficult reading’. 

The decision to keep her in her post – taken during the UK’s anti-bullying week – sparked a furious new row in Westminster at a time when Mr Johnson is attempting to rest his government after the departure of top aide Dominic Cummings last week. 

Shadow home office minister Holly Lynch said the ‘initial, unedited report’ must be published in full and called for an independent investigation.

‘These are serious allegations that suggest Boris Johnson tried to interfere with an investigation into bullying accusations against one of his closest political allies,’ the Labour MP said.

The Home Secretary apologised and said there were ‘no excuses’ for what happened but highlighted Sir Alex’s assessment of her awareness.

She told the BBC that ‘any upset that I’ve caused is completely unintentional and at the time, of course it says it’s in the report, that issues were not pointed out to me’.

Later on, Sir Philip released a statement through the FDA union for civil servants saying that he was ‘at no stage asked to contribute evidence’ to the investigation.

‘The advice states that no feedback was given to the Home Secretary and that she was therefore unaware of issues that she might otherwise have addressed. This is not correct,’ he said.

‘As early as August 2019, the month after her appointment, she was advised that she must not shout and swear at staff.

‘I advised her on a number of further occasions between September 2019 and February 2020 about the need to treat staff with respect and to make changes to protect health, safety and wellbeing.’

Mr Johnson, who is the ultimate arbiter of the ministerial code, judged that Ms Patel did not breach the rules and continues to have ‘full confidence in her’ and ‘considers this matter now closed’.

Mr Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: ‘The Prime Minister does personally take these allegations exceedingly seriously. He loathes bullying.

‘He did say that he would not tolerate bullying. He hasn’t tolerated bullying. It is not his belief that Priti Patel is a bully.’

Downing Street indicated that the full report into Ms Patel’s conduct would not be published in order to protect those who gave evidence.

Published at Sat, 21 Nov 2020 09:47:00 +0000

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