Dan Hannan has an excellent column in the Telegraph today pointing out that whether you support Dominic Raab or not probably reflects your prior politics rather than the merits of the case – but even so, there is a clear problem now that ‘bullying’ is defined subjectively of allegations being weaponised against disliked bosses and colleagues. Here’s how it starts.
Which camp are you in? Is Dominic Raab a hatchet-faced tyrant who has finally had his come-uppance? Or is he the victim of snowflake snivel servants who can’t stand being given their instructions by someone who voted Leave? Here’s the thing. Whichever camp you’re in, I bet you were in it before the publication of Friday’s report. That’s how our minds work. We begin with our preferred conclusion, and then cast around for ways to sustain it, convinced all the while that we are being wholly rational, and that our critics must therefore be acting in bad faith.
For what it’s worth, my sympathies are firmly with the former Lord Chancellor, on three grounds. First, the allegation of bullying always struck me as implausible. In all our dealings, I have found Raab correct and courteous – despite his features being habitually set in an expression of apparent ferocity. Second, some civil servants plainly dislike being told what to do by ministers whose opinions they despise. Third, bullying is now defined subjectively, covering anything that makes anyone feel uncomfortable, even when there was plainly no malicious intent. We see this absurdity in complaints listed by the report: that Raab reminded an official of the civil service code, that he held up his hand for silence when staff were repeating themselves, that he complained about inadequate briefings.
You might object that I was always likely to come down on the former Deputy PM’s side. I have never hidden my view that power has shifted dangerously from Jim Hacker to Humphrey Appleby, that free-market policies are being deliberately frustrated by ideological bureaucrats, and that ‘bullying’ now often means being told to do your job.
But, if you are fair-minded, you must surely accept that the converse is at least as true. Those columnists and MPs who are now claiming to be outraged about Raab were silent about what were, by any conceivable measure, vastly more serious bullying allegations against John Bercow.
That, I’m afraid, is how politics works. We struggle to tell the difference between opposition and corruption – or, to flip it around, we blur the distinction between “integrity” and “agrees with me”. Which is why we should worry about the growing tendency to drive politicians from office through mock-judicial processes rather than through the voting urns.
Worth reading in full.
Not only bullying but also ‘harassment’ is now defined subjectively, including in laws and guidance made by this Conservative Government – an extension of the problem with subjective ‘hate speech’ that is often noted – so the Tories really only have themselves to blame for not realising sooner the danger in defining offences based only on ‘victim’ perception. In truth, the whole subjectivity of harm and offence – including the ‘believe the victim’ mantra – has crept into law and regulation in the past 20 years and it all needs reviewing and unpicking before any more harm is done.