Dominic Raab has had to resign from the government, due to an investigation into allegations of bullying having found that there was sufficient evidence to justify an adverse finding. Sorry about the complexity of that sentence, but he has not been found guilty, only that he has a case to answer. There was some question as to whether the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak would fire him or not. Raab saved him the problem by resigning in an extraordinary, apology free self-justifying resignation letter.

There have been two parliamentary responses, the first is that the Liberal Democrats have rightly referred these events the parliamentary commissioner on standards, the second by some Tories that they rewrite the rules governing ministers’ behaviour towards civil servants.

This is one of the most publicly visible stories showing the endemic occurrence of bullying within the workplace and the consensus of tolerance of such behaviour. Raab’s failure to apologise is symptomatic of an attitude pervasive within British management. He thinks he did nothing wrong and there will be many managers who agree. There is no excuse, the trade union movement and the law have developed definitions of bullying.

Bullying includes: offensive, intimidating, malicious, or insulting behaviour; abuse of authority which violates the dignity of an individual or a group of people; creating a hostile environment against an individual; and the undermining, humiliation or injury of an individual.

Tribunals do not consider bullying to be a crime although I have read some lawyers material that suggests that legal remedy can be sought through the Crown Court system; neither of these offer timely relief which is why the collusion by managements in supporting senior officers against allegations of bullying is so damaging. Raab’s refusal to apologise and to blame the victims is just one expression of this widespread view that managers have to be tough. The Tories have already let Patel off on the grounds she didn’t mean it, Raab is seeking to extend arguments in defence of bullying charges to arguing that it wasn’t bullying, it was merely effective management communication. I am also curious about the argument that I was accused of six acts and only found to have misbehaved twice. i.e. only a little bullying is permitted.

It’s all too easy to forget the genuine hurt and harm that bullying can cause and we too often forget that it’s designed to be hurtful. As human beings we should have sympathy with the victims and be robust in condemning and punishing the perpetrators. Another legal route might be to sue the employer for a breach of health and safety, although again, evidence of causality is difficult to obtain. I am unclear of the legal precedents for this pursuit, but I am advised that’s at least one trade union law firm has a very low assessment of the likelihood of winning. The best defence against known bullies with management air-cover, is a strong union, with a recognition agreement that threatens industrial action.

It is not uncommon for organisations that value their brand to appoint independent lawyers to establish the facts of the case of bullying or harassment, particularly in cases where the alleged bully is a senior officer of the organisation. One of the reasons this practice is quite common, is that it is unusual for bullies to do their bullying in public, and thus evidence of the acts of bullying is often hard to find. To be honest, I am surprised that the investigating lawyer actually found there was a case to answer, in my experience, this is highly unusual.

Concerning the Lib Dems referral of these events to the parliamentary standards commissioner, this would come better from, well nearly anyone else. If the parliamentary standards commissioner and committee decide to sanction Raab, then he may have to face a petition of recall and a by-election. His seat must now be considered a marginal; he has a majority of under 2,500, I think it’s unlikely that he would be able to hold his seat, particularly given his lack of contrition and the arrogance with which he continues to defend himself not to mention his failure during the Afghanistan withdrawal and his commitment to the failed Brexit, his constituency voted to remain in 2016.  

The referral to the parliamentary standards commissioner should be supported. It is highly unusual for acts of bullying to be held to account, as a trade union rep who has on numerous occasions helped people make grievances against bullies, I can assure you my success rate in these cases is not high. British workplaces need a change in management culture and a change in the law. The Bribery Act makes it an offence for a company to fail to stop ‘improper behaviour’, perhaps we should pass such a law for bullying.

As for the Tories attempt to rewrite the ministers’ codes of behaviour, this article in the guardian also linked to above,  is very good; while not mentioning Priti Patel they do mention Jacob Rees Mogg’s bullying of staff to return to the office after the pandemic. You would have thought that the Tories would have learned that’s changing the rules after the event rarely has a successful outcome. Just look Boris Johnson and Owen Patterson. Sadly, the guardian article uses language that locates the dysfunction in the context of government. Senior civil servants are not the only victims of bullying. And while the FDA’s intervention has been important and useful. Allowing the FDA to lead on this issue makes it easy to turn this into a government versus civil service issue.  It is not, PCS needs to wake up and this is an issue for all workers.

My union, the GMB , has debated this at several Congresses over the last five years. I shall be writing to Officers asking them to support the referral to the parliamentary standards commissioner and to support a rewriting of the law so that everyone can be protected from management bullying and that managers learn that bullying has bad consequences.

Bye Bye Raab
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