By John Newsinger
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Track and Trace: In safe hands?

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Issue 459

Even in the middle of the Dominic Cummings scandal, it still comes as a surprise that the person put in charge of Track and Trace by Matt Hancock is Baroness Dido Harding. Among other things she is also on the board of the Cheltenham Festival. As the Daily Mail pointed out, the board decided that the event should go ahead this year despite the pandemic, and experts believe it “caused a spike in Covid-19 deaths”. Now even taking into account the fact that Johnson and Cummings and the rest of the Cabinet are without shame, perhaps she was still the best person for the job.
So, who is she? She is the granddaughter of Field Marshal Lord Harding, the man who brutally suppressed the Communist insurgency in Malaya in the 1950s. Inevitably, she was privately educated, went to Oxford, where one of her best friends was David Cameron, and then to the Harvard Business School. From there she went to work at the US McKinsey consultancy in 1988.
McKinsey has been described as “the Jesuits of Capitalism” and its contemporary mantra is ‘Privatise and Casualise’. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour first brought the company into the affairs of the British government, but wherever McKinsey people are to be found then privatisation is on the agenda. From McKinsey she went on to occupy senior positions at Thomas Cook, Woolworths, Tesco and Sainsbury before becoming CEO of the Talk Talk Group, the telecommunications giant.
Now to most people none of this would seem to qualify her for heading up the track and trace operation or for any NHS job for that matter. Indeed her performance at Talk Talk, where she presided over the notorious 2015 cyber-attack which saw two 15-yearold boys steal the details of 157,000 customers, would seem to rule her out. But this is to completely misunderstand how modern Britain works. Dido Harding is wellconnected. She is married to a Tory MP, John Penrose, and in 2014 had been given a peerage by her chum Cameron and was made a member of the Court of the Bank of England. Indeed, even after the cyber debacle at Talk Talk, her pay was increased.
In 2014, she earned just over £1 million, but the following year her pay and benefits increased to £2.81 million. When she left the business in May 2017, its share price shot up by 10 percent. Within months of leaving Talk Talk she was headhunted to head up NHS Improvement, a vital part of the Tories’ plan for the NHS.
But the Baroness had other interests as well. She was a director of the British Land Company, which in 2019 had assets valued at over £11 billion. She was also a director of Mind Gym, the ‘leadership’ training company. Clearly there could be no one better equipped to take charge of the government’s chaotic shambles. On a more sombre note, she now has people’s lives in her hands and there is a grim certainty that this government’s ideologically-driven incompetence is going to cost yet more lives.

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