Dominic Raab’s exit is a victory for the Blob
But the bullying probe has severely weakened Rishi Sunak's authority
Dominic Raab has fallen on his sword, rather than forcing the Prime Minister to sack him after allegations of bullying were upheld against the now-departed Justice Secretary. The outcome only makes Sunak’s position a little easier, and certainly doesn’t change the questions many in the party will be asking about the balance of power between ministers and mandarins.
It is never easy for a PM to lose a cabinet minister — especially a close ally. Raab backed Sunak through the first leadership contest, was sidelined by Truss, and returned to government as both Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister. Though the latter is largely a symbolic role, it was an important marker of Sunak’s faith in him. Now that faith looks wasted.
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Sunak is forced into an unwelcome reshuffle. Replacing a single minister offers far more opportunity to offend Westminster colleagues than to reward them. Sunak will have to choose his pick for the Justice brief carefully, balancing power between the various party factions. The same will be true of the more junior roles that will open behind whoever is elevated. A botched reshuffle can create all sorts of internal headaches.
Equally, Sunak will have to find someone who can ensure Justice is a functioning department. The crisis in the courts is becoming an increasingly potent issue. Backlogs in trials caused by a decade of cuts, and compounded by the Covid closures, are snarling up the justice system. This means uncertainty for both victims and the accused, as trials are postponed — with each adjournment reducing the prospect of conviction. At the same time, the department will have to repair the relationship with civil servants in the wake of Raab’s exit.
The unravelling of Raab’s stint will also likely open another front in the Tory Party’s battle with the civil service. Backbenchers and even ministers increasingly talk about “the Blob”, and the perception that politically motivated intransigence is used to frustrate their policies. That a minister was ousted through civil servants’ grievances will only add succour to this.
Raab himself feels aggrieved. He thinks the “findings are flawed and set a dangerous precedent for the conduct of good government”, that they curtail the ability of ministers to hold mandarins to account and press their policies through Government. Most of the complaints against him were upheld, and when the report comes out it seems likely to be in the grey zone of culpability with no real smoking gun.
That a minister has been forced out in these circumstances will anger many in the party who see the civil service as an obstacle. Equally, it will empower mandarins who recognise that they have the opportunity to push back against politicians whose bad management slips beyond the bounds of acceptability. It adds a new dimension to the relationship between elected and professional officials, potentially accelerating calls for US-style political appointees.
Governing is hard enough already for the Tories. The party seems tired, its popularity has waned and internal factions are finely balanced. Equally, it faces external difficulties, such as adverse economic circumstances and a small boats problem that is easy to talk about but hard to fix. The Conservatives could do without unforced errors.
Now the Prime Minister faces unwelcome challenges. First, he has to replace a key ally without alienating too much of his party. Then there will be a smouldering conflict between the party and the civil service — both of which Sunak needs on board to get things done. The loss of your first minister is a rite of passage for a PM, another sign that the honeymoon period is over. Sunak’s was hardly sparkling to begin with, but now government will be a little more gruelling.
There’s always two sides to every story and, having just read Raab’s version of events on the Telegraph I am not convinced that this procedure was fair or unbiased.
Raab thinks it sets a dangerous precedent. That’s possible, but I am not so sure. I think that we’ll see some real nastiness coming out in the wash in the next few weeks when we have the post-mortem. And – here’s my risky thesis – the government will actually gain.
Raab won’t come out of it smelling of roses – as a minister, you have to make tough calls and be demanding which involves upsetting some people. I’m sure his conduct wasn’t completely innocent. But he’s the fall guy, a busted flush. Sunak can just stand back while Raab sings like a canary, blowing the lid on what’s going on behind the scenes with the civil service.
Reading Raab’s account, it isn’t just a hunch that people are against him and policies he was appointed to implement – it is the blatant disapplication of certain rules (e.g. limitation periods for submitting claims) to reach a certain outcome. That is quite clearly unacceptable. And, thinking back to the furore about how much power and influence Dominic Cummings had as an unelected individual, it absolutely reeks of hypocrisy.
The Tories will get a few more scratches to add to the growing collection, but I’m sure it won’t lose them that many voters. I’m guessing that a lot of them are frustrated with the civil service themselves and want some kind of public reckoning with it.
I agree there’s a lot we don’t know here and I try to be wary of instant judgements in situations like this. It’s likely that many of these incidents are “he said, she said” and you then have to choose who you believe without conclusive evidence.
It’s also possible that even if offence was perceived, Raab never intended it. Some of us have clumsy interpersonal skills and accidentally offend people without ever intending to – I’ve occasionally driven people to rage without being at all aware of it (and might even be doing so here from time to time).
He may well be guilty. I don’t think we have the information to judge today though.
What does bother me is that when terms like bullying are not properly defined, we’ll end up with subjective judgements.
You may be right that losing a few small battles doesn’t mean the war will be lost.
I’m reading the report and am still bothered by this limitation period thing. If you look at page 21, the KC takes on Raab’s arguments about the general three month period…but then goes on to say near the end that the MoJ’s “courage in coming forward” paved the way for the other complaints which related to conduct, some of which which went back to 2018. That makes a mockery of that 3 month time limit which the KC affirmed previously. It basically says “if you say you were scared a few years ago and cry a bit now a good opportunity has come up, the limitation period doesn’t apply”. Not persuasive, as it does not create any incentive to bring claims forward promptly when it’s easiest to put together evidence and evaluate it.
The statements on the lack of specificity are also worrying. Even though it’s the nature of bullying claims to be a bit vague and “he said she said”…if employees have the feeling they are being treated badly by the their boss, then they need to be writing everything down and making a dossier to make their case. Specific details, dates, behaviour witnessed etc. The civil servants involved do not appear to have made much effort to do this which – sorry – only serves to make their claims look weak.
I say this as a person who has made a complaint in the past about a bullying boss (not in the UK) and am therefore familiar with what you as an employee have to be doing. If you don’t get your evidence together, the answer is frequently “get another job, this isn’t going to fly”. Unless my complaint would have been a good opportunity to get rid of the boss in which case anything goes…
“Most of the complaints against him were upheld”. Really?
I’ve read eight, Nick, and two upheld (and even then a bit of wiggle room on the two).
Yeah I’m in the middle of going through this report. Read the conclusions first and to be honest it all seems a bit tenuous. We’ve all had a manager like Raab at some point and it really isn’t fun – manager behaviour does need looking at with a critical eye.
However, these claims just have “stitch up” written all over them.
For too many civil servants the job is just a continuation of university that requires slightly better punctuality. We need more experienced, worldly people. There should be no graduate entry.
The whole Northcote-Trevelyan system needs repealing. It has always had its critics – see Barnett, Corelli – and is now corrupt and outdated.
“At the most extreme, and which would have been unacceptable, this was put as extending his hand directly out towards another person’s face with a view to making them stop talking”
Dominic Raab is a monster.
“Another example of such an allegation was loud banging of the table to make a point.”
Oh, the humanity! (and furniture!)
potentially accelerating calls for US-style political appointees
May be the best outcome – but it won’t happen overnight. Its been creeping in since the invention of SPADS – maybe time to take the next step.
Sound like a case of “and how did that make you feel?”
It is certainly fortunate that these codes of conduct regarding interchanges with officials and the desire by civil servants not to be upset by ministers did not operate during the war-time prime ministership of Churchill otherwise Churchill would certainly have been bogged down in complaints of bullying and forced to resign and the war would have ended in the triumph of Germany.
Exchanges between Churchill and his officials were almost certainly more robust than appears to have been the case with Raab, although it it hard to tell from the painstaking obscurity of the Tolley report.
Raab seems simply to have been intense, hardworking, demanding and not inclined to wrap his criticisms and frustrations in anodyne circumlocutions to conform with the preferred mode of communications of civil servants.
Shame he was so useless as a minister really – must be those pesky snowflake civil servants stopping him achieving anything worthwhile!
Do we have a working definition of “bullying”?
During a brief contract with the Civil Service I was accused of being highly offensive. My crime? I observed internally that the central management of the particular programme was exceptionally inefficient and completely ineffective. The poor little dears were very upset at being called out.
I encountered similar some years back when managing payments from CS to my private computer company. I encountered levels of foolishness and bureaucracy that I could hardly believe. I was left with the lasting impression that whatever CS was good at, it was not managing anything.
The Govt actually states it on Gov.UK as ‘”behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended”.
That does appear to place considerable emphasis on the ‘eye of the beholder’. Remember though this is the Govt own published definition signed off by Ministers and in the Ministerial Code. Raab can’t say it wasn’t clear or not agreed by the Tories. Thus given the potential way in which it could be interpreted he, at best, has not shown great intelligence. What he could have done is place his Private office between himself and key officials to ensure the ‘filter’ on quality of documents submitted was up to the standards he wanted and his Private office could be the ‘hard’ Policeman not himself. Many Ministers over the years do that. But then again this isn’t a guy who ponders much before concluding and the sense is he liked playing the Hard Policeman role. Too image conscious and myopic to the inevitable outcome,
Dominic Raab was appointed Secretary of State for Justice on 15th September 2021. Three days later Terri Harris, John Bennett, Lacey Bennett and Connie Gent were murdered in a house in Killamarsh in Derbyshire. In December 2022 Damien Bendall was given a whole life sentence for the four murders he committed and the rape of 11-year-old Lacey Bennett. In January 2023 a review of the case by Justin Russell (the Chief Inspector of Prisons and Probation) which was ordered by Dominic Raab in September 2021 was published and here are some quotes from a BBC News report about what Chief Inspector Russell found:
“The Probation Service’s assessment and management of Bendall at every stage, from initial court report to his supervision in the community, was of an unacceptable standard and fell far below what was required,” he said.
Mr Russell said: “The court report author assessed Bendall as posing a medium risk of serious harm to the public and posing a low risk of serious harm to partners and children. We do not agree with this risk assessment; they underestimated the risks Bendall posed and this had serious consequences.”
The report into the probation service’s handling of Bendall said: “Had DB’s [Damien Bendall’s] risk of serious harm to the public and children been correctly assessed as high, and had his risk of serious harm to partners been correctly assessed as medium, the court may not have curfewed him to an address with Ms Harris and her children.”
The Tolley report into the bullying allegations made against Dominic Raab upheld two allegations, the first concerning his behaviour whilst he was Foreign Secretary and the second concerning his behaviour whilst he was Secretary of State for Justice. In his findings on the second complaint Adam Tolley found that “there was a stark dispute as to whether the DPM had described the work done as ‘utterly useless’ and ‘woeful’” and that “on balance, I think that these were the words used”. According to the Tolley report one of Dominic Raab’s priorities was “reform of the parole system”. We know that in the case of Terri Harris, John Bennett, Lacey Bennett and Connie Gent the parole system completely failed them and they are all dead.
I don’t know if the work described as “utterly useless” and “woeful” was related to the murders committed by Damien Bendall but perhaps someone should try to find that out. The Damien Bendall case shows that decisions made by the government and civil servants in departments such as the Ministry of Justice, HM Prison and Probation Service and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (all of which were given recommendations in the Russell report) can be the difference between life and death for members of the public. However, in the political, journalistic and activist bubble centred on Westminster what Dominic Raab said to civil servants who can speak is more important than what happened to Terri Harris, John Bennett, Lacey Bennett and Connie Gent who can’t speak.
Meh. Stand by for Raab to stand down before the ignominy of the GE. This is the get out of jail card he’s been praying for.
ahh Raab… to the butler’s pantry with you…
I think that the focus is wrong. Who said what to whom, or who might/did replace Raab is a non-story.
The story is that the politicians that we vote, supposedly “into power” have no power any longer. They can’t pass anything through, unless their departments agree it. The departments have what appears to be almost complete power over parliament, and appear able to dispose of any politicians with whom they disagree.. (I say parliament because mine is not a party political point in this case). It will be the same for Labour should they win power.
In the last few years (or let’s be honest, since 2016) There has been such a power grab that essentially it really is now the Civil service and Departments that run the country, enact policy, but now also formulate policy and ram it through their ministers, and dispose of politicians with whom they don’t agree. It is nakedly political.
Our “part in it” as voters, our democratic process, has been shunted into a siding, parked, and secured. We are, effectively, voting for paper cut-outs.
Arguably Raab should have resigned or been sacked for incompetence ages ago.
This is the man who allowed an historical backlog of court justice to mount without resolution.
This is a man who stayed on his Greek paddleboard as we rushed our Afghan evacuation.
This is a man who promulgated Brexit and then admitted he’d never appreciated how much trade went through the Port of Dover.
This is a man who admitted he’d never read the Good Friday Agreement to try and understand how to balance Brexit and the Irish border.
Character wise – people respond well to good management. Getting angry about not being brought your usual Pret bagel at the correct time not indicative he ‘got’ some basics.
Indeed. Hopelessly shallow and not up to the job.
Raab, Shapps and Williamson are the living embodiment of all that is wrong with the Conservative party: chippy, badly dressed ego covering inferiority complexed petit bourgeois non entities, with a craving for recognition and what they would call ” peower’, who in another era would have been kept below stairs and/ or behind the green baize door.
Well you may apply that tirade of meaningless abuse to Shapps and Williamson, but not against Raab. He is quite well dressed (what on earth has that to do with it?) and is clearly hard and authoritative in his management style. The problem is that civil servants aren’t used to being ‘managed’, nor treated strongly when they ignore their minister’s wishes/demands. For decades they’ve become used to doing what they see as right and managing their minister to achieve that.
In response to your comments:
– If you cannot understand tongue in cheek satire, it does not render it ‘ meaningless’
– Abuse verbally or in writing can only be taken or claimed after it was given, unless within libel and defamation law.
– As you cannot establish as to whether Raab has seen the comment, let alone considered it abuse,, your observations are, with respect, innacurate at best. No further questions, Your Honour.
“If you cannot understand tongue in cheek satire, it does not render it ‘ meaningless’”
I understand it. I just didn’t see it in your post.
PS: I agree with your estimation of them.
Ps ” quite well dressed? To those who either know no better, or need Specsavers…
Ahh Rees, I see that you are bearded? Your comments are therefore of no interest or consequence whatsoever.
Drop the self pity and the article-of-faith conspiracy theories. Not about your imagined blob. Just about a bumptious bloke who behaves abominably towards subordinates. Good riddance. Now he can have plenty of free time to work out where Dover is.
“Drop the self pity” wails the snowflake
Really? Basic good manners are ‘snowflake’ now? Being brought up with ‘manners maketh man’ obviously makes me hopelessly outdated
Hiding behind “Good manners” has become a cover for snowflakery.
Perhaps Raab could be elevated to the Upper house as the first Duke of Lower Middle Class?
Nice to see it firmly stated that the civil servants are subordinates to the elected ministers.
If only they could take that on board. It will take decades I suspect.
“Subordinate” does not mean the superior has the right to humiliate and demean people. It’s an incredibly inefficient way to manage people.
And that’s the essential point. Bad manners makes for bad management. I can vouch for the fact that a good manager can make you feel – deservedly – like you’ve been through a paper shredder for a piece of idiot incompetence, without raised voice or a word of rudeness
Apparently it’s quite important to our cross-channel trade, not that he knew it. Raab resigned as Brexit geezer because he didn’t like the treaty which he himself had negotiated; perhaps he resigned this time because he didn’t like the person he is?
Brilliant. True karma would have him coming back as himself
Funny how every opinion you disagree with is labelled a ‘conspiracy theory’.
Spot on. Wouldn’t know common courtesy if it were handed to him on a plate with a parsley garnish
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