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21 April 2023

Dominic Raab’s tough-guy persona has proved his undoing

His resignation has been a long time coming.

By Jonn Elledge

Dominic Raab uses his Twitter bio to tell us precisely three facts: the name of his constituency, the number of his children and the fact that he’s a boxing fan. To read too much into this would be unfair to the many thousands of boxing fans who haven’t been forced to resign over allegations of bullying, but it’s a striking choice of hobby to highlight nonetheless.

Forced to resign, though, Raab certainly was: his resignation letter is not the work of a man who accepts that he’s done something wrong. On Thursday night (20 April), mysterious unidentified sources close to the Justice Secretary were briefing that he had read Adam Tolley KC’s report into the allegations and would be staying in post; Friday morning’s Telegraph splashed that he would “fight to the death” to remain.

The death arrived, alas, shortly before 10am, when he published a resignation statement that has all the grace and charm of, well, a bully, being forced to apologise to his victim. “I called for the inquiry,” it begins, sulkily, “and undertook to resign, if it made any finding of bullying whatsoever. I believe it is important to keep my word.”

But he can’t resist adding two paragraphs later, “Whilst I feel duty bound to accept the outcome of the inquiry, it dismissed all but two of the claims levelled against me.” Despite the fact this amounts to an acknowledgement he had been found guilty at least twice, which sounds a little like a pattern of behaviour, somehow the most obnoxious thing about that sentence is the word “whilst”. “I also believe,” it goes on, like the real victim here is the nation that will now be forced to muddle on without him, “that its [the inquiry’s] two adverse findings are flawed and set a dangerous precedent for the conduct of good government.” This is so unfair, I shouldn’t have to resign, one day I’ll make you all sorry.

[See also: The fall of Dominic Raab is a tale of change in modern Britain]

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Perhaps the most revealing bit of the letter, though, is the fact he feels the need to emphasise that he “had not once, in four and a half years, sworn or shouted at anyone, let alone thrown anything or otherwise physically intimidated anyone”. Well, no: most people make it through their entire career without doing those things, so one rather takes that for granted. Instead, the most unpleasant bosses do it all with micromanagement and gaslighting. Raab either does not understand this, or he is pretending not to. Either way it’s a useful insight into why he’s considered so unpleasant to work with that, on his departure, staff at the Foreign Office by all acounts experienced a previously unknown emotion: being genuinely pleased to see Liz Truss.

Raab has always had this air about him: of being a man who looks up and kicks down – according to Tolley’s report, in one instance Raab’s conduct towards staff “involved an abuse or misuse of power in a way that undermines or humiliates” – and who will stop at nothing to get his own way, like some upsetting cross between Arnold J Rimmer and Jean-Claude Van Damme. He first came to prominence as one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, alongside Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore. (I used to feel rather sorry for Skidmore, the Pete Best of this group, the guy doomed forever to be listed on Amazon as “and one other”. As the years go on, though, he’s increasingly looked like the best one.)

The most infamous and electorally toxic line of that manifesto, the claim that “the British are among the worst idlers in the world”, could theoretically have been written by anyone. During one of the leadership debates last summer, however, Truss helpfully revealed that it had been Raab’s own. She had her reasons – Raab was supporting Rishi Sunak – but it must be said this fits with the way he always seems on the verge of a sneer.

[See also: Dominic Raab resigns following bullying report]

It fits, too, with all the awful things he’s said before or since. Long-term observers will no doubt have their own favourites, but for me the greatest hits must surely include the time he said that food-bank users were not in poverty, but merely people who suffered from cashflow problems; and the time that he said that men were the real victims of misogyny, and described feminists as “amongst the most obnoxious bigots”. Then there was the incident in which he as foreign secretary granted diplomatic immunity to Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US diplomat, who had killed 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a hit and run, before pursuing his grieving family for legal costs. (In Raab’s defence, he did say he was sad about that.)

Worst of all, though, must surely be the events of August 2021, when allied troops withdrew from Afghanistan and Kabul fell to the Taliban. As this crisis unfolded, Raab – then the foreign secretary – decided to remain on holiday in Crete, and declined to speak to his Afghan counterpart, delegating the job to a junior minister. The way he refused to speak to anyone but a handful of senior departmental staff led to delayed decision-making, with catastrophic results for the evacuation. Raab denied the charges; he also refused suggestions – including from within his own party – that he should resign. As with his boss at the time, Boris Johnson, the impression you get is of a man who wants the status of a senior government job without actually having to do it.

This, the expectation of respect he hasn’t actually earned, seems to typify the man. Everything Raab does is clearly intended to communicate one message: this is not someone you want to mess with.

The problem with obsessively trying to look tough, though, is that it inevitably raises the question why. It so smacks of insecurity that I find myself wondering if, at 49 years old, he’s still overcompensating for being laughed at at school. What could he possibly be this frightened of? And is it the thing that belatedly, far later than it should, has finally happened at last?

[See also: Dominic Raab: the professional’s professional]

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