Raab's rapid unscheduled disassembly
As The Sun declares the “political assassination” of Dominic Raab “by snowflake civil servants”, the publication’s former editor wants to know if his real saboteur was the British press. Spoilers – it wasn’t.
The chances are that it will not just be Elon Musk’s space rockets that will face “rapid unscheduled disassembly”. Selling blue tick verifications like medieval indulgences could have the same impact on Twitter.
Indeed bits have already have begun to fly off the esteemed news source and it may soon be impossible to prevent rapid disassembly. But for now there is still a wealth of breaking stories, pointed comments and insights out there on the Twittersphere, many from journalists or former journalists. Trolls should simply be ignored.
Some ask questions that pull you up short even though, by design, the answer is blindingly obvious.
One such question about the state of the UK as Dominic Raab headed noisily for political oblivion stood out from the endless stream, and it came from David Yelland, former editor of The Sun.
‘Who persisted in lying?’
Yelland was the oddest editor The Sun ever had even though his five-year tenure from 1998-2003 seems now to belong to another universe. He had an honours degree in economics and a spell at the Harvard Business School before Rupert Murdoch took a shine to him.
Incredible as it seems now, Yelland was chosen on a manifesto to change The Sun following its rip-roaring Kelvin MacKenzie years, to make it a more serious paper by curbing what Yelland saw as some of its excesses and playing a greater role at the centre of the national debate.
With hindsight maybe the project wasn’t such a great success (not helped by the fact that Yelland has since admitted being pissed for much of his editorship).
But the entirely sober Yelland, who founded a public relations company, can still put his finger on a telling issue facing significant parts of the media.
Illustrated by a snapshot of the front-page splash of Saturday’s Daily Mail, Yelland’s tweet asked: “Is it the British senior civil service that has failed the nation or the British press? Who lied? Who persisted in lying? Who led the nation to mediocrity and small minded nastiness?”
Is it the British ‘senior civil service’ that has failed the nation, or the British press? Who lied? Who persists in lying? Who led the nation to mediocrity and small-minded nastiness? pic.twitter.com/13Wu39MAdC
— David Yelland (@davidyelland) April 22, 2023
It is an important question, almost a charge, that gets to the heart of an even larger issue: can significant sections of the media be trusted to try to be fair, balanced, or in the worst cases even to tell the truth.
Civil service ‘activism’ claims are unfounded
The coverage that prompted the Yelland question was the Mail splash that asked: “Was This The Day Britain Became Ungovernable?” with the sub-theme that Deputy Prime Minister Raab had been forced out by “flimsy bullying claims” from “activist” civil servants working from the inside to undermine Conservative policies.
The Mail coverage accepted uncritically all of the departing Raab’s very aggressive diatribe that the bar for bullying had now been set so low as to have a “chilling effect” on the business of government.
This was despite the fact that the independent barrister asked to investigate Raab’s behaviour, Adam Tolley KC decided that Raab’s behaviour had amounted to “an abuse or misuse of power” and that he had been “intimidating and persistently aggressive” to officials.
Naturally the Mail took the view that the idea of a neutral civil service committed to serving Governments of all stripes without fear or favour had now died. And getting to the main point, it had long been obvious to the Mail that “the Whitehall Blob”, as the paper dubs the civil service, despises the Tories “for getting Brexit done” and is sullenly obstructive to their plans for change.
The “broken” relationship between an increasingly recalcitrant civil service and those they are paid to serve is “a schism which is rapidly making Britain ungovernable.”
The Sun called it: “Snowflakes …1, UK …0″ while bemoaning the profound danger that would flow from “Dominic Raab’s political assassination by snowflake civil servants.”
It would indeed be a serious matter if bands of leftie activist civil servants were undermining the historic traditions of civil service impartiality by targeting ministers and policies it did not like rather than a case of one minister’s unacceptable behaviour. Fortunately we can all sigh with relief. The country is not about to become ungovernable nor is the tradition of civil service impartiality going to hell in a handcart, although in government, as in many other workplaces, there may be less tolerance of bullying and intimidating behaviour in future.
An effective fact check of the nonsense on “The Blob” from the right-wing press came soon after from Lord McDonald on the Today programme.
Lord McDonald was permanent secretary at the Foreign Office when Raab was Foreign Secretary, and in retirement is building a record of judicious public interventions when he encounters things that are untrue. The crossbench Peer set the ball rolling for the resignation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister by writing to the Parliamentary Standards Committee saying that the Johnson denials of being warned of previous allegation against Chris Pincher were untrue.
This time Lord McDonald denied there was civil service activism, passive aggression, a separate civil service agenda or that other ministers were in danger as a result of the Raab finding. “I saw no evidence of a small group trying to undermine a minister. The issue is a minister’s behaviour,” said McDonald, who added he had raised Raab’s counter-productive behaviour with him a number of times.
The continuing disadvantages of Brexit
The coverage of the end of yet another ministerial career is just one story, however revealing, and just one tweet.
David Yelland, and presumably he is the real David Yelland, is however a prolific tweeter with 18,700 tweets and more than 28,000 followers.
As a result we know Yelland is an ardent Remainer and that the “lies” and “lying” he is talking about go beyond the civil service and includes the coverage — or lack of coverage — of the multiple, and continuing disadvantages being inflicted by the Brexit the Mail so passionately espoused.
It might be difficult to find out from the Daily Mail or The Sun that the latest polls show that 61% of the UK population would now vote to re-join the EU compared to 39% who would not, or that a majority would like a new referendum within the next five years.
It would be a tragedy for Yelland and journalists everywhere if Twitter, where the widest range of ideas, many even civilly expressed, can be found, were to face a rapid unscheduled disassembly and disappear down a black hole.
Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.