Tony Danker accuses CBI of 'throwing me under the bus'

A scapegoat for the sins of others? The scandal-ravaged CBI sacked its boss Tony Danker last week but he now accuses the business group of ‘throwing me under the bus – then reversing back over me’

  • Police launched an investigation after CBI fired Tony Danker and three others
  • In first interview since his firing, he said his name was wrongly linked to claims 

Tony Danker used his keynote speech at the Confederation of British Industry’s recent ‘Future of Work’ conference to deliver an important message: that companies must embrace ‘progressive’ Left-wing values if they wish to survive.

Perched at an Accenture-sponsored lectern in central London, this titan of industry told assembled delegates that their firms ought to be urgently promoting ‘net zero’, engaging in ‘public advocacy’ and creating ‘active diversity and inclusion strategies’.

‘Go woke or go broke, warns CBI,’ read one of the following day’s headlines. That was in early March, when the tub-thumping Danker, a metropolitan former Labour Party aide and Guardian newspaper executive turned £376,000-a-year director general of the CBI, enjoyed a lofty status as one of Britain’s top corporate schmoozers. 

Fast forward just six weeks and, well, how the mighty have fallen.

Yesterday, Danker could be heard delivering a very different public message, this time via a BBC interview. His subject: how a deeply unedifying series of events has, in the blink of an eye, cost him his job and reputation and thrown the 58-year-old CBI into an existential crisis.

Fired boss of the Confederation of British Industry Tony Danker says his ‘reputation has been totally destroyed’ following sex misconduct allegations

Like many a dramatic tragedy, this tale is laden with irony. For the downfall of its sermonising protagonist – not to mention the politically correct organisation he once ran – involves perhaps one of the muckiest ‘MeToo’ scandals to hit the world of business since the demise of Harvey Weinstein.

READ MORE: ‘I’m the fall guy’: Sacked CBI boss says his reputation has been ‘totally trashed’ by allegations of sex misconduct and insists he didn’t proposition anyone at work as he breaks his silence after dramatic firing

Major sub-plots revolve around allegations of rape and sexual assault by other senior members of CBI staff, plus rampant cocaine use and an institutionalised culture of harassment and assault at the supposedly right-on lobbying group. Then there’s various episodes involving karaoke, drunken summer parties on a boat, sexually explicit mobile phone messages and the inappropriate use of Instagram.

Let’s start, however, with Danker.

For behind the hysteria, the 51-year-old father of two’s fate raises serious and arguably very concerning questions about the extent to which basic principles of natural justice can survive the era of cancel culture.

To understand why, one must appreciate two important facts. Firstly, that the worst of the sex and drug scandal that has engulfed the CBI have nothing to do with him and concern events that took place in 2019, before he’d even arrived there. Secondly, the allegations of wrongdoing that do directly involve him are in a different and far less serious league.

In other words, Danker claims, a handful of minor complaints about his workplace conduct have been cynically weaponised by colleagues who wish to turn him into a ‘fall guy’ for the wider crisis engulfing the outfit.

‘Not only did they just throw me under the bus, they reversed the bus back over me,’ is how he puts it. ‘My reputation has been totally destroyed.’

The facts, such as we know them, are as follows: an internal complaint of sexual harassment was first levelled against Ulster-born Danker in January, but dismissed by the CBI on the grounds that it ‘did not require escalation into a formal disciplinary process’.

Mr Danker during his BBC interview. Police are investigating after the CBI fired him and suspended three other staff, claiming his conduct ‘fell short’ of what was expected of him

Two months later, news reports flagging wider concerns about the organisation’s office culture prompted the group to hire law firm Fox Williams to compile a formal report into his behaviour.

READ MORE: CBI boss Tony Danker says he is ‘shocked’ at his sacking and claims harassment allegations against him were ‘distorted’ – as three employees are suspended amid sexual misconduct probe at lobby group following complaints from a dozen women 

It was handed to the CBI’s board over the Easter weekend. They decided to dismiss him with immediate effect, and without a payoff, claiming that Danker’s conduct ‘fell short of that expected of the director general’.

So what, exactly, had he done? Well here’s where it gets interesting. Danker – who in a Kafka-esque twist hasn’t actually been shown the Fox Williams report – claims to have been dismissed for committing four specific misdeeds.

The first is, on paper, extraordinarily petty: it’s alleged that on the night of the CBI’s 2021 Christmas party, he organised a ‘secret and private’ karaoke at a bar called Lucky Voice for a select group of colleagues, leaving others feeling left out.

Danker, a bespectacled Volvo driver who in his free time plays in an amateur rock band called Spread the Word, offers the following version of events: ‘Everybody was walking around saying ‘let’s go to karaoke’ and I said ‘OK’ and I booked a room for 15 people, which was the largest I could get. Then I walked around the party saying ‘who wants to come to karaoke’ and we got 15 people and we went.’

Danker – who in a Kafka-esque twist hasn’t actually been shown the Fox Williams report – claims to have been dismissed for committing four specific misdeeds

A colleague has a subtly different take. ‘The concerns were that he used his private email address to invite a select group of colleagues, who were almost all young women under the age of 30 or 35, to this bar in Soho, which to others looked and felt inappropriate,’ is how they put it. ‘Be that as it may, it hardly makes him Jeffrey Epstein.’

The second complaint is that Danker viewed the personal Instagram accounts of colleagues, which Fox Williams regarded as intrusive.

‘I viewed the stories and profiles of a very small number of CBI staff, men and women, who have public Instagram profiles, public, not private – so they broadcast to the world,’ Danker said yesterday. ‘Nobody complained, but the investigator raised it with me.’ Once more, this doesn’t seem like misconduct, let alone grounds for dismissal.

The third and fourth complaints are interrelated. One is that Danker used messaging apps to send ‘a barrage’ of personal messages to young members of staff, asking about ‘non-work stuff’ such as their weekend activities or family situations. He admits to doing this, confessing that one female recipient was left ‘uncomfortable’, but says the communications were sent to about 200 colleagues and designed to ‘build rapport’.

The other complaint is that he regularly invited junior employees from the CBI’s 230-strong payroll to breakfast, lunch or coffee dates outside the office.

In his first interview since his firing on April 11, Mr Danker – pictured with Rishi Sunak – accused the business group of ‘throwing me under the bus – then reversing back over me’

Danker explains this as follows: ‘I took junior staff, female and male. I invited them to coffees and breakfasts and lunches across the road from the office to talk about their career as part of a mentoring programme. The CBI knew about all these things and never once raised them with me as a disciplinary issue, until suddenly they all became grounds for immediate dismissal.’ 

A colleague’s view, shared with The Sunday Times, is a touch less sympathetic: ‘It was only when people started talking to each other that they realised he was just skipping the male managers to speak to young, blonde women. It was casual and unprofessional. You were kind of ‘in’ the Tony club, or not in the Tony club.’ But again, this does not, on paper, appear to amount to serious professional misconduct.

Asked on the radio to explain Danker’s dismissal yesterday, the CBI’s president Brian McBride described his narrative as ‘selective’ but refused to elaborate on key details, saying they were ‘a private legal matter’ and appearing to invite him to sue if he felt aggrieved.

What we do know for sure, however, is that the CBI has, in recent weeks, found itself in urgent need of someone to scapegoat after a string of hair-raising allegations were raised about its office culture in mid-March.

They emanated from The Guardian newspaper [Danker’s former employer] which approached the business organisation seeking comment about an extraordinary series of complaints raised by more than a dozen female employees past and present, who spoke to its reporters.

According to the women, there was a ‘toxic culture’ of ‘unchecked misogyny’ at the CBI, which has an annual income of £25million, largely from fees paid by members, which include three-quarters of FTSE-100 companies.

Former CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith, who left the organisation last month to join Barclays, has replaced Mr Danker as director-general

‘There are some kind men who work at the CBI. But there are also men who prey on younger women,’ said one. ‘The experience of being targeted destroyed my confidence at work and in other parts of my personal life.’ Another added: ‘It’s been scary. I am trying to protect my colleagues by speaking out about hidden problems. There is a real danger from some of these people.’

The most specific of the claims revolved around an office party held in the summer of 2019 aboard the Tattershall Castle, a pub on a boat moored across the Thames from the London Eye.

Described by one attendee as ‘certainly raucous’ and fuelled by copious quantities of prosecco and gin and tonic, it saw a woman followed into a toilet by a senior manager, who allegedly ‘grabbed the back of her neck and pinned her to the wall of the toilet stall. He then lifted up her clothes and raped her.’

According to The Guardian, which has seen text messages supporting this narrative, the woman reported the rape claim to a senior manager several days later. But instead of launching a formal investigation, the colleague told her to seek counselling, the woman claims.

Other junior female employees who spoke to the newspaper said they had received unsolicited and explicit images from a senior manager via their mobile phones, often during work, while still more complained of being propositioned by a different manager after being pressured to drink alcohol at the riverboat bash.

Another incident, which also apparently took place on the boat, saw a former board member accused of touching a female employee’s bottom and making a sexualised remark to another woman within earshot of colleagues.

These infinitely more serious claims – none of which remotely involve Tony Danker – are still being investigated by Fox Williams and are also the subject of a criminal investigation by the City of London Police. Whether the CBI can survive the conclusion of that process is, for now, anyone’s guess.

The organisation, formed by Royal Charter in 1965, was once an essential counterweight to the powerful trade unions. But the Thatcher era’s confrontation of the unions removed its raison d’etre and the last decade has seen its membership fall from about 250,000 companies to 190,000 as more nimble firms, especially in the tech sector, came to view it as obsolete and ineffectual.

It has devoted recent years to lobbying endlessly and fruitlessly against Brexit, picking fights with the Conservative Party – the policies of which made many of its members rich – and promoting the sort of fashionable wokery that Danker was bleating on about during his speech in early March.

That he is now hoist by his own petard will strike some as poetic justice. But one might argue that’s about the only justice anyone involved in this hugely damaging affair has so far received.

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