Psycho Raab’s vein goes into throbbing overdrive over bullying claims | John Crace

Angela Rayner tries to get a rise out of Dom but Psycho’s non mea culpa stonewalling tactics kick in

Every cloud and all that. What with the threat of world war three, Rishi Sunak probably had better ways of spending his last few minutes at the G20 in Bali than scribbling a brief note to Dominic “Psycho” Raab agreeing that an investigation into his deputy’s behaviour was the right way to proceed.

If nothing else, it was all very embarrassing. The prime minister had spent much of the previous few days insisting he had never heard a word about Psycho. Not a dickie. He had always found him completely charming to work with. If a little abrupt. And aggressive.

But that was all part of his manly charm. So now it turned out that civil servants in two of the departments Raab had worked in had lodged formal bullying complaints. The only wonder was that so far no one had come forward from the former Department for Exiting the EU. Give it time. And just wait until the police start identifying some of the unknown bodies fished out of the Thames.

But for Raab there was definitely an upside. He had been due to stand in for Rish! at prime minister’s questions. And he had feared he would be in for a rough time from Angela Rayner over the numerous bullying allegations being made against him. Just imagine. In anti-bullying week as well. People should have known better than to pick on him at such a sensitive time. But we were where we were. And at least now he would be able to say that he was far too traumatised to give a statement and would wait until the outcome of any investigation.

It was far from a full house on the government benches for Psycho’s first outing at PMQs since his reappointment as deputy prime minister. If he has his fans, they had chosen to mark the occasion by staying away. As had most of the cabinet.

Jeremy Hunt was there to show his face before Thursday’s autumn statement but he made little effort to conceal he was there under duress. Perhaps he had been bullied into it. Being seen close to Raab isn’t a great career move these days. Otherwise the forgettable Alister Jack was the closest we got to an A-list cast. And he was only there because he couldn’t sneak away after Scottish questions.

The session got under way with a non mea culpa. Raab’s standard response to everything. He has never yet found a situation in which his standards of behaviour fell short of expectations. It hasn’t yet occurred to him it might be an idea to raise his game. Thinking you must have been a top bloke just because junior staff leave the room alive and having wiped away their tears doesn’t quite cut it.

But Labour’s Clive Betts tried to get Psycho to commit to something on the record. Would Raab admit that bullying wasn’t quite what Rish! had had in mind when he had said he would govern with integrity, professionalism and accountability? And would any minister found to have a complaint upheld against them be obliged to resign.

Raab went into legal overdrive. He didn’t want to say anything that might prejudice any investigation. But he was sure he would be proven innocent on all counts. Especially if the prime minister did the right thing and appointed an investigator house-trained in overlooking bullying complaints. Such a pity, the prime minister hadn’t yet bothered to appoint an ethics adviser. He went on to say he would comply with any decision. Which wasn’t quite the same as saying he would resign. Always best to leave yourself a bit of wriggle room.

For now though, Psycho was doing his best to look intensely relaxed. As if these kinds of complaints were the sort of thing every cabinet minister routinely had to deal with. Angela Rayner looked curiously unnerved. It was almost as though she had imagined she just had to turn up and Psycho would disintegrate on first contact. Only now the ballgame had changed. She had already got the investigation she had been planning to demand. And she had no other line of questioning prepared.

She began well enough by aligning Labour to the government response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Though Raab would have settled for that all day. Just bring on five more questions with which he could agree. This was one of the rare occasions where he wasn’t actively looking for a fight.

Next up Rayner brought up the coming autumn statement. She used the same 38th out of 38 OECD growth statistic that Rachel Reeves had quoted in Treasury questions the day before. Still no answer. Was Hunt going to do anything to upset Rish!’s wife and various Tory donors by abolishing non-dom status? Psycho was horrified. The Tories were the party of aspiration. And closing tax loopholes would just deter people from working hard to acquire the connections and the wealth to avoid paying what they owed.

Then Labour’s deputy leader piled into Raab on bullying and her attack lines rather fizzled out. She had nowhere to go with them. Psycho could just stonewall. There was going to be an investigation. He couldn’t believe the people he had bullied had really been bullied otherwise they wouldn’t be coming forward now.

The people he really bullied were normally so incapacitated with PTSD that they never left their psychiatric wards. So he was quite certain that anyone covered in flying tomatoes would be able to see the funny side. Just bantz. His way of trying to bring out the best in junior staff was to treat them like shit and submit them to a near-death experience.

Labour’s Bambos Charalambous stirred things up by bringing up Raab’s previous. Was it true that before he became an MP he had forced one member of staff to sign a non-disclosure agreement? No, Raab insisted. The person had just had to sign a document agreeing not to disclose anything. Which was completely standard practice. Especially when the boss is an aggressive lunatic. By now Psycho’s anger vein was beginning to throb. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse. Raab took a breath, willing himself back under control. He could kill someone later. Just because.

Jacob Rees-Mogg tried to come to his rescue. Various Labour MPs had been accused of bullying. So it was hypocritical of the opposition to moan about Raab’s excesses. By far the best way forward was just to forget about all bullying complaints. Not that the government wasn’t taking them seriously. Raab was already forbidden from meeting unsupervised junior staff. Lee Anderson was just idiotic. No change there then. He thought Labour daring to question Suella Braverman’s multiple breaches of the ministerial code was the most wicked act of bullying.

The session ended with Raab on a high. Sunak was going to choose the person to lead the investigation. So it wasn’t going to be in the slightest bit independent. Better still, Rish! had made it clear that it was ultimately up to him whether Psycho was guilty or not. Just in case the investigator didn’t follow orders. All would be well. That’s our Dom. A licence to bully.

A year in Westminster with John Crace, Marina Hyde and Armando Iannucci
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John Crace

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