Dilemmas of Leadership. What Rishi Sunak must learn from Elon Musk in dealing with the Dominic Raab resignation.

April 21, 2023

Rishi Sunak faces a serious leadership problem dealing with the report of the bullying accusations made about his deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab. This leaves the Prime Minister facing the classic leadership dilemma of facing two unpalatable options of sacking Raab or supporting him. He will find a valuable lesson to the response by Elon Musk to his space flight yesterday which ended in a spectacular explosion, yet was claimed as a triumph by Musk and his team at Mission Control.

The dilemma

Sacking him results in a reshuffle and questions about his previous leadership decisions. Leaving him in place will also bring criticisms of ignoring the claims of the civil servants, and still having to deal with them. As a tweet put it

The Tories are drowning in their own sleaze and corruption. If Sunak sacks Raab it’ll be the end of Sunak. If Sunak doesn’t sack Raab he won’t survive the public outcry and it’ll be the end of Sunak. Classic example of being caught between a rock and a hard place. Tories in free fall

The process for dealing with the complaints is itself being described as a hasty muddle because of a delay in appointing an ethics advisor. The previous senior civil servant resigned for actions of the previous PM but one, Boris Johnson, who had become embroiled in Partygate and more specifically dealing with a rather similar loyalty versus misbehaviour problem.
Absence of an ethics advisor, Sunak opted for a report that offered no conclusions, leaving him with the growing political crisis. As the day went on, accusations grew by the opposition that the PM was dithering. The day ended with the story building up momentum.

21 April: Friday morning

Overnight the story shared the headlines with the spectacular end to the launch of Elon Musk’s rocket. The papers present a disaster, with vivid fiery images . ‘Elon Musk: we have a problem’ one said. Except, that sounded like Musk’s words. They weren’t. He asserted the opposite.
The simple ‘blunder by Elon’ picture presented is contradicted by the jubilation of the scientists at Mission Control, not only at launch, but throughout the brief flight including the awesome explosion.

The informed evidence is that the trial was precisely that. A test to destruction, a mighty costly but necessary experiment. Musk reportedly went out of his way to congratulate his team for their efforts. A near-flawless image management.
There was one typically idiosyncratic remark which also made it into the headlines. A member of his team announced that ‘Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation.

10 am

Dominic Raab resigns. His states that the report is flawed but he reluctantly resigns out of a sense of duty. He believes a dangerous precedent has been made by ‘setting the bar too low’.
Sunak avoids the either/or decision. But the political price now includes the implied criticisms of his leadership in Raab’s resignation letter.


The nation waits for the PM to speak. Presumably he is having to revise his statement in light of the poison-pen letter from his onetime friend and loyal supporter he has just received.
Interviewer outside Parliament with someone to her side holding up a placard saying Repent, Believe Jesus died for you.

Dominic Raab continues his last-round gallant attack with an opinion piece in the Telegraph which either defies Einstein’s theory of relativity, or was written earlier. It expands on his resignation.
This precedent sets the playbook for a small number of officials to target ministers, who negotiate robustly on behalf of the country, pursue bold reforms and persevere in holding civil servants to account. If that is now the threshold for bullying in government, it is the people of this country who will pay the price.

Rishi stays silent

But the news is building up. The forty-page report has been made public. Rishi stays silent. But finds time to write an empathic letter of comfort to Dominic Raab accepting his resignation, and hoping for his continued support from the back benches.

The information arriving is reaching overload levels. Will the Prime Minister deal with a rapid unscheduled disassembly of his cabinet? Will he be able to claim it success for his pledge to bring back integrity and stability to his Premiership?

We will simply have to wait and see.

To be continued