Plumber needed at No 10?

Are you an office gossip? Do you like to swap titillating tales about your colleagues around the water cooler, at lunch or down the pub? If so you are not alone. In fact, a study by academics in Holland suggests that a whopping 90% of office conversation comprises of gossip in some form.

That said, you are probably not a member of Theresa May’s cabinet and your careless whispers are not jeopardising the efficient function of government at present (do correct me if I’m wrong!). In the Westminster bubble however, office gossip is causing major fissures to the stone face of the post-election united front that was promised. This week the tittle-tattling of cabinet secrets to the press has got so bad that Mrs May has had to let the press know she was going to tell the cabinet to stop…

This weekend, the summer holidays arrive for all with the mass exodus from school gates for summer hols.  The media have already kicked off the silly season with reports of Great White sharks cruising England’s south coast, but in politics, as mentioned before, we are still surfing a silly season that has lasted since about June 23rd of 2016.

Wasn’t the Europe referendum supposed to put a stop to the 100 year war for the soul of the Conservative Party? (ok, that may be slight exaggeration although it certainly seems to have lasted that long). Interviewed by Eddie Mair on the PM show, Sunday Times political editor, Tim Shipman was asked if this is the “bitchiest cabinet” he has ever known. He replied, yes, in his 17 year experience as a journo, although he admitted the legendary “bastards” of John Major’s 1990s government may well have been worse.

It’s as if the Conservative party has hijacked the Tardis – while in dock to shock traditionalists by throwing up a female incarnation of Dr Who – and jumped back to the early Nineties to continue the bun fight that was raging then. Fuelled on a heady cocktail of uncertainty over Brexit, leadership and public service pay, the Government’s inner sanctum is gossiping away like crazy at the moment and doesn’t care who’s listening at the water cooler.

Loose lips sink ships, and around that water cooler, the Chancellor must be feeling a little like the ‘invincible’ HMS Hood shortly before being downed off the coast of Denmark in 1941. The Sunday Times was able to attribute leaks to a whopping 5 cabinet members regarding comments Phillip Hammond to the cabinet about an ‘overpaid’ public sector, not to mention improper remarks about women driving trains.

Various studies have shown how gossip fulfils useful societal needs, including Dr Jack Levin. In his book, Gossip: The Inside Scoop, he argues that it can be healthy, tying together business and social networks (hey, who hasn’t had a stilted conversation come alive with a juicy gem of goss?!), but other researchers have pointed to the more obvious side products – fear, resentment and stress caused.

The thing about office gossip is that it is a beast that cannot be tamed by anything less than a boss with an iron fist (ie Mrs May pre-government election wobble), but the PM’s fist is anything but iron these days. As another MP, formerly a May supporter, told Mr Shipman and the Sunday Times, “Let them hate so long as they fear. They are laughing at her now. She’s done. It’s just a matter of time before she realises it…”

Luan de Burgh

July 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.