Not to underplay bullying but aren’t some complaints against Dominic Raab him just being demanding? - Bill Carmichael

What have Jeremy Clarkson, Meghan Markle, Priti Patel, John Bercow, and Gavin Williamson got in common?They have all, at one time or another, been accused of workplace bullying.

Now the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, is at the centre of a new bullying row. He is the subject of eight formal complaints from civil servants that are being investigated by senior lawyer Adam Tolley KC.

Mr Raab denies the allegations against him and insists he has never sworn or shouted at a meeting.

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But the story got me thinking about my own working career of more than 40 years now. I’ve worked for some good bosses, and some absolute monsters.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab faces bullying allegations. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty ImagesDeputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab faces bullying allegations. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab faces bullying allegations. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Life in a newspaper newsroom in the 1970s when I began as a cub reporter was like something out of that TV series Life on Mars. Men - and journalism was a very male dominated trade - sported curly perms and sheepskin jackets and drove Ford Capris.

Most chain-smoked and the newsroom was in such a fug, you couldn’t see your colleagues on the sports desk on the other side of the room.

Hard drinking was the norm, and one sub editor kept a bottle of Scotch in his desk drawer, and would steadily drink his way through it during the day, before going to the pub after work.

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One morning in my first week I was sent to the police station to talk to the duty desk sergeant about any incidents overnight. There had been three burglaries, all in the same street, and I took the details and rushed back to the newsroom and typed up my story on a giant manual typewriter that probably weighed more than I did.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see the news editor, a fearsome man with a volcanic temper, pick my story from the copy basket and flick through the sheets.

He rose, his face puce, and screamed at a volume that could be heard in the next street: “Who the hell wrote this pile of rubbish?” Only the words “hell” and “rubbish” were replaced by more colourful terms not appropriate for a family newspaper.

I timidly admitted it was me, and he summoned me to his desk, threw the sheets of paper in my face and told me to re-write it. He didn’t say what was wrong with it, or how I could improve it. I had to work that out for myself.

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And that’s what I did, through trial and error, and lots more humiliating tellings off, I managed to work out what was required and to produce stories that he would glance at without comment and pass on to the subs’ desk.

My fellow trainee, a lovely intelligent girl, packed it in after a few weeks of this treatment.

Although it must be said, such was the sexism in journalism at that time, she fared even worse than I did.

Was that bullying? Probably, yes. Journalism has always been a rough old trade and probably worse than most, but I am sure something similar happened in workplaces across the country.

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I wouldn’t for a moment want to go back to those days, but sometimes I wonder if things have swung too far the other way.

Take for example the complaints against Mr Raab. One anonymous complainant told the BBC that there were long silences, and he would cut people short and tell them to stop talking.

Mr Raab expected “people to turn up very, very quickly without knowing really why they’re there”. And he would “expect everyone to have answers to all his questions even when he wanted information on topics outside the knowledge of people in the room”.

Sounds like every single day in pretty much every office I've ever worked in. Mr Raab’s defenders say he is very hard working and demanding, as he should be. If you were senior enough to be working directly for a government minister, wouldn’t you expect the work to be demanding?

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The same complainant said Mr Raab would sometimes give people “the hard stare".

This sounded familiar and eventually it came to me where I’d heard it before. Paddington Bear was taught by his Aunt Lucy to give “the hard stare” to people who had forgotten their manners. Seriously, is that bullying?

I am not underplaying bullying. It is horrible and should not be tolerated, but we need to be able to distinguish between a direct and assertive boss demanding good performance, and the bully who sets out to humiliate and abuse.