The joyous power of bawling out the boss

Bureaucrats may try to control our working lives, but as Danny Baker dramatically showed, employees can find ways of striking back

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The Independent Online

So farewell then, Danny Baker. Nothing in your life became you like the way you left your radio show. You spoke for an unfashionable group: men the wrong side of 50 who find themselves classified as superfluous by the pin-headed weasels who run large corporations. Let's hear it for these tubby fiftysomething has-beens. I am one of them myself, having contrived last year, at the age of 53, to fall out with my employers: an open-and-shut case of refusing to obey orders, which means I am now pursuing a freelance career.

Not that these shadowy assailants pose less of a threat to women. I know a woman in her late forties who was invited to a PowerPoint presentation about the reorganisation of her office. It took her several minutes to establish that her post no longer existed. She tracked down a list of jobs in the new structure for which she was eligible to apply. But it turned out that all the new jobs were inferior to her previous one. She could save herself only by accepting humiliation at the hands of the bureaucracy. She decided to leave.The bureaucracy was doubtless pleased to see the back of her. She was too inclined to point out the absurdities of what it was doing: too independent minded to submit to the tyranny veiled in management-speak.

The fear of never working again is what gives these office-bound tyrants their hold. Nor is it an entirely illusory fear. On Friday morning I had an astonishing conversation with Paul Grant, who is 72. He was driving me to the BBC, where I had agreed to take part in a discussion on the Today programme of the Baker affair. At the age of 50, Grant resigned from a managerial job in France because his mother-in-law was ill, and returned to Britain, where he was confident of obtaining a similar post. He had reckoned without two factors: the recession of the early 1990s and "the prejudice against anyone over the age of 45". Between 1990 and 1995, Grant applied for 3,500 jobs. He got "three semi-positive replies", from which he obtained one interview, from which no job resulted. For the past 15 years he has driven people to and from the BBC.

Grant offered the following pleasantly prosaic advice about what to do if you get fired: "There's not much point making a fuss about it, because if someone's made up their mind about it they're not going to change it." I rather agree with him, but under questioning from Justin Webb I found myself going further. Perhaps it is a good thing to be fired in your fifties. Some of us had never heard of Danny Baker until he was sacked. It may have done him a power of good to be kicked in the teeth by his employer. This kind of treatment was just what he needed to gain the wider audience which his talents so clearly deserve. If things don't work out, I can put him in touch with Grant.

Freedom exists only if we are prepared to do things which are not in our material interest. Otherwise we are reduced, as Alexis de Tocqueville warned in his great work Democracy in America, to a docile and obedient flock of sheep. De Tocqueville feared the state would buy our subservience, which certainly remains a danger, but it is just as possible that other bureaucracies will induce in us a state of helpless dependence. As we suck at the organisation's paps, the sense comes over us that we cannot live without this nourishment, and would do anything to ensure its continued supply.

The doctrine of necessity liberates us from wondering whether what we are doing is right, or even whether it is good for us. We have to carry on in order to pay the mortgage, or support the family, or for some other virtuous purpose. Hence the value of anarchists like Baker, who drive a coach and horses through the whole edifice of prudence. Two weeks ago, in an interview with Nick Duerden for this newspaper, he said: "What I do is very ephemeral and silly."

Can it be that this interview sealed Baker's fate? In it, he made clear that his only preparation for his radio show was going to the pub, a way of life that no sober, puritanical bureaucrat would find acceptable. The bureaucrats would prefer us to believe that our lives need to remain entirely regular, or else we shall perish. But there is something enervating about a regular income. That way lies the mentality of the rentier: the individual who succumbs to inertia, his material needs assured.

In the workplace we acquire habits of obedience which become hard to distinguish from subservience. Our anxious sense of duty plays into our employers' hands. They find us pathetically eager to please, even when there is nothing we can actually do to please.

This is why Baker's insolence comes as a liberation. Millions of us spend our lives as wage slaves, frightened of what will become of us if we dare to rebel. But here is Baker, denouncing the way we kow-tow "to the reams and reams and reams of middle management", telling the rogues that he hopes "their abacus comes undone and they choke on the beads", assuring us that he will not "just acquiesce" on his "way to the abattoir" to save their embarrassment.

The massed ranks of the workaholic bureaucrats shudder as they hear these words. They realise that while they are under surveillance, they cannot retaliate. So they wait until Baker has gone to the pub, whereupon they carry out yet another reorganisation, in order to suppress the horrific stirrings of freedom that he has prompted.

Andrew Gimson is the author of 'Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson'