Government rejects call for inquiry into PM's behaviour
LONDON (Reuters) - The government rejected opposition calls on Monday for an inquiry into allegations that Gordon Brown intimidated his staff, claims which have emerged just weeks before the prime minister faces an election.
Brown has dismissed as baseless and malicious allegations published in a Sunday newspaper that he had terrified staff by shouting abuse at them and in some cases had physically intimidated them.
The claims appeared in extracts from a book by a political journalist.
The head of a charity set up to counter workplace bullying said there had been "two or more" calls to its helpline from the prime minister's office but said she was not accusing Brown of being a bully. She did not say when the complaints were made.
The allegations have overshadowed a Labour poll recovery which has seen the ruling party, in power since 1997, narrow the gap on the Conservatives to six points -- a margin that could lead to a hung parliament in which no party has an absolute majority.
With an election to be held by June, the stories have inevitably sharpened the focus on Brown's character as a leader and provoked a political slanging match.
"They are very serious matters and I'm sure that Number 10 Downing Street and the civil service in some way will want to have some sort of inquiry to try and get to the bottom of what has happened here," opposition Conservative leader David Cameron told reporters.
GOVERNMENT RULES OUT INQUIRY
The prime minister's spokesman told reporters that he did not believe there was a culture of bullying or intimidation in Brown's office, denying there had been any formal complaints.
"We don't see any need to have an inquiry," he told reporters, adding that Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell, Britain's most senior civil servant, shared his view.
Brown also denied he had been reprimanded over his behaviour towards staff.
"The cabinet secretary has made it clear that he's had no inquiries, there's been no reprimand, there's been no private message to me ... (The) story is completely wrong," he said in an interview with The Economist magazine published online.
Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said Brown appeared to be the victim of a political campaign.
"We've got a country to run, that's what's important to us. Nobody bullies, nobody tolerates bullying in this government, in any part of this government, period, zero, and that's it, OK?," Mandelson told reporters at an investment conference in London.
Brown, 59, replaced Tony Blair in mid-term in 2007 after serving as his finance minister for a decade. Brown is often portrayed as intense and brooding. Critics, some within his own party, say he is an electoral liability.
Brown must call an election by June, with May 6 seen as the likely poll date.
(Additional reporting by Michael Holden, Tim Castle, Matt Falloon and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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