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Dominic Raab: Not a bully but exactly the kind of person we need in public life


IF I was ever a junior civil servant under Dominic Raab and ended up in one of his meetings that ‘he prepares extensively for’ and ‘has read all of the key papers and identified questions in advance’, I would go prepared. This is because Raab does not like to ‘receive a recitation of papers which he has already read’. This frustrates Raab and then he can become ‘abrasive’. Perhaps after such a meeting I might have snuck off to the ladies and had a little cry. Would that make him a bully, or should it cause his resignation? Of course not. 

But then, what am I talking about? First, there is no such thing as ‘the ladies’ any more, just vast gender-neutral toilets where everyone from your male co-worker to your boss can hear you change a sanitary product or view you touch up your lipstick, such is progress. Secondly, my view is that the workplace, and the civil service especially, has become so feminised that old-fashioned male management styles such as Raab’s are becoming rarer and therefore ‘called out’ as inappropriate. 

I read the report written by Adam Tolley KC that resulted in Dominic Raab’s resignation. As I read it I was waiting for the killer blow but it never really came. The first part reads like some kind of political advert on behalf of Raab. Stuff he should print on the t-shirt. Most of the eight complaints against him bar two were dismissed – one of intimidating behaviour and also a finding that Raab mentioned in general that civil servants could be in breach of the civil service code, which one member of staff viewed as a threat of disciplinary action. 

I was surprised by the report, given that the briefing against Raab in the Times yesterday morning was that ‘officials who have seen the report, however, believe that it is “terrible” and think Raab should be sacked.’ 

So, let’s have a look at this report that ‘officials’ believe is ‘terrible.’  

It states: 

·      The Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) is highly intelligent, pays close attention to detail and seeks to make decisions based on evidence; 

·      He has strong principles and is guided by them in practice; 

·      He works assiduously and typically from about 0730 until about 2200, Monday to Thursday. This includes working during the car journey to Westminster and from Westminster to home. Fridays are allocated to constituency work. He usually does extensive work on weekends also; 

·      He makes a determined effort to use his working time effectively. He seeks to use meetings with policy officials to test the relevant material and make a decision;

·      There was no persuasive evidence that Raab shouted at individuals. It was also concluded that he did not swear at anyone or swear more generally; 

·      There was no question, on the evidence, of his losing control. 

So what did Raab do wrong? The report found that while at the Department of Justice, Raab was abrasive but not abusive. 

The two complaints that were upheld, were referred to as the FCDO complaint. Unfortunately, the public cannot make a judgment on the specifics because for reasons of confidentiality specifics were not laid out in the report. What was found however: 

·       In reaching and implementing this management choice Raab acted in a way which was intimidating, in the sense of unreasonably and persistently aggressive conduct in the context of a work meeting. It also involved an abuse or misuse of power in a way that undermines or humiliates. He introduced an unwarranted punitive element;

·       On a separate occasion, the DPM referred to the Civil Service Code in a way which could reasonably have been understood as suggesting that those involved had acted in breach. This had a significant adverse effect on a particular individual who took it seriously. 

The report was not investigating whether there was a breach of the Ministerial code. This was left for Sunak to decide but ultimately Raab resigned. 

The Right Honourable Dominic Raab MP (he can use that title for life) sounds like a man who is devoted to public service. I thought this was exactly the kind of person we wanted in public life? 

In fact, the only thing Raab is guilty of is being a workaholic and I assume a rather absent husband and father. I don’t like bullies and I would never defend one, but from this report it’s clear he is not a bully in the ordinary sense of the term. He doesn’t pick on people – he doesn’t single people out or go after the little guy. In fact the report says that if he does criticise someone he moves on, and ‘wipes the slate clean’. 

Raab is guilty of ‘in his own words being inquisitorial, direct, impatient and fastidious’. He reads the reports given to him and so does not appreciate being taken through the material again. He wants to drive change. That can be difficult to achieve in the current environment. 

The truth is that Raab is an old-fashioned boss with a masculine style of management in a feminised world of work. It does not really matter whether the complainants were male or female; I sense they were both. The point is that the entire atmosphere now, particularly in the public sector, is much more feminised. 

Hollywood and the BBC might tell you it is all about the tough girl, the Girl Boss. But in reality, the toleration of tougher management styles has lowered over the years. The working from home, the low productivity that has dogged the economy in the last few years, are symptoms of this lack of resilience. The civil service was always unsackable. Now it is unmanageable, and it is the taxpayer and country who will suffer. 

You can see the full report here.

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