"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"While I am not condoning nastiness in the workplace, the Raab saga suggests that fragile types believe that any robust scrutiny of their work amounts to "bullying".
I'll start with a confession. I joined the consensus decrying British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab as he resigned over bullying allegations. Given the media reports — based chiefly on leaks — it appears that Raab was a bit of a bastard who got what was coming to him.
Then I read the inquiry report that prompted the resignation. As I ran through the 48 pages, my views changed as I formed the distinct impression of a stitch-up.
Let's step back, setting aside any prejudices to recognise a few principles underpin natural justice. These encompass the rule against bias and the right to a fair hearing, a reasonable opportunity to answer, and present one's case. Moreover, natural justice includes the right to know the accuser. In turn, comes the chance to challenge their account by cross-examination, and the evidence must support the allegation.
I'd argue that Raab receives a diluted or degraded form of justice in this instance. He gets to give his version of events, but the confidentiality of alleged "victims" prevents a direct and thorough cross-examination. Moreover, this anonymity is unfair, given the abundance of evidence that the complainants coordinated their efforts against Raab.
The inquiry report is heavy on legal definitions, stated cases, and the mechanisms used to gather evidence. For sure, the author, barrister Adam Tolloy KC, is keen to demonstrate the legitimacy of the process, going overboard with the preamble.
Yet as I read it, a voice in my head kept shouting, "Show me the evidence." By the end, I was baffled. If this were a court case, I reckon it's "no case to answer" with Raab waltzing out the door.
For starters, the names involved and the dates and times of alleged bullying incidents are missing, with a few exceptions. Atop that, the report is short on specifics. So instead, we have a couple of broad-brush allegations that may or may not stand up to scrutiny. I can't answer either way because the details are missing.
I'm no fan of Raab; indeed, the opposite. From what I've seen, he's an unsympathetic character who excudes no personal warmth, little in the way of empathy and sneers a lot. In July 2021, as the then UK's Foreign Secretary, he remained on a sun-bed as British troops struggled to evacuate from Kabul. That is a significant black mark against him.
Yet, none of this is enough to justify what appears to be a pooled effort by over-sensitive civil servants to remove him.
No doubt Raab is a right pain in the backside to work for, especially if you're the sort who likes to clock off at 5 pm. He grafts more than 14 hours daily, pays close attention to detail and is diligent, decisive and principled. The report states that Raab is sometimes demanding of others in a manner that is occasionally direct. You know, the qualities you'd expect from a minister dealing with challenging issues.
Significantly, the report concludes that Raab didn't shout or swear, and there was no evidence of him ever losing control of his temper. So on that basis, the civil servants should count themselves lucky.
I can attest to many bosses who did all those things, and I learned to live with it, fight back and protect my corner. One individual I worked for enjoyed his daily humiliation of subordinates at "morning prayers". He'd mock people's answers, interrupt before they could finish, and behave like a dick.
It took me a couple of weeks, but I got his measure. I'd put the phone down on him until he adopted a civil tone. He soon got the message, respecting the pushback like a true bully.
While I am not condoning nastiness in the workplace, the Raab saga suggests that fragile types believe that any robust scrutiny of their work amounts to "bullying", even when they're doing a lousy job.
The civil servants might have responded to Raab's manner by doing all they could to help him. But instead, the report makes clear that groups of civil servants conspired on the first complaint, which in turn triggered and paved the way for further group complaints.
The report finds Raab "guilty" in two instances. One involved the removal of an official he judged to be undermining Brexit negotiations. That decision is entirely within his purview. The other was when he was allegedly "intimidating and insulting" to officials whose work he thought inadequate. He is accused of saying they "didn't even cover the basics.” That he gave such criticism in front of others offended the recipient. Oh, dear!
Anyone waiting weeks for a new passport, driving licence or any government service will identify with his exasperation. Indeed they may think he should have been more forceful.
Since "bullying" is somewhat subjective, there will be those who regard him as an arsehole and others for whom "demanding boss" might be a more apt description.
I tend to view that entrenched interests, which should support the minister, have decided to take him down — a weak Prime Minister proved a willing accomplice in this process. All the while, the principles of natural justice have fallen away to allow sniping from the shadows. And those snipers have made a kill.
All of which begs the question, what happened to the supposed robust democratic systems, transparency and fairness? If Raab has done terrible things, show us the proof because, for now, the charges don't stand up. A copy of the report is below.
Lastly, a bit of fear can motivate us to achieve excellence, whether it's a business, sport, or government. And that's the real issue here because, in today's victim culture demanding high standards can hurt feelings. The fact remains tough bosses get the best out of us. You hate them for it, but the sense of achievement is enormous when you excel.
Hence, it's hard not to conclude the falling standards that blight Britain have their origin here.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.