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Heroes and anti-heroes of the Post Office scandal

We watched Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which was harrowing, even though I had watched a previous programme on the Horizon scandal and knew the extent of the Post Office management’s moral decay.

A few things stood out for me: firstly, how rare it was to do what Alan Bates did – to have confidence that it hadn’t been you who made a mistake, decline to put any of your own money in to make up the balance and stand up to the goons sent from the HQ. The programme showed him as a hero because he led the movement to get justice to the thousands of subpostmasters caught up in the scandal, but his first and most heroic act was to spot the wheeze and categorically refuse to go along with it.

It naturally makes me wonder what I would have done in his shoes. The statistical probability is what (apparently) every other subpostmaster did – doubt themselves rather than the computer and capitulate by sinking their own money in, for fear of losing their livelihood, good name and everything else. I don’t blame anyone – how absolutely human to do so.

But Alan Bates’s case highlights how important the subversive, non-complying people are to the proper functioning of society. People with a strong, internally motivated sense of what is the right thing to do, regardless of what other people tell you, even if, or especially if, they’re in high positions.

The other thing the programme made me wonder was whether the scandal is an example of toxic female leadership. As female leadership of companies, governments etc. becomes more common, we will surely see more examples of it (Alison Rose’s recent case may be one too). Just as female murderers behave differently to male murderers, bad apples in corporate life must have different things they are motivated by and different failure modes.

My first shooting-from-the-hip theory would be that bad female bosses are especially motivated by social hierachy, people knowing their place, staying in their lane and showing respect to the queen bee (by backing her up). Organisations led by them could become places where it’s more expedient for subordinates to point fingers rather than solve problems. They would slowly replace freethinkers with social climbers, until the whole place was buzzing with people who saw absolutely no reward in drawing attention to things going wrong, and if forced to think about it, they would focus on shoring up their own position, not tackling whatever it is.

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