Thursday, May 28, 2020

Coronavirus 32

1. COVID-19 Test and Trace is a good thing.
2. It should have begun in late January
3. The abandonment of any attempt on 12th March was a National Disaster
4. Starting today distracts from Dominic Cummings. Well that's handy.

During yesterday's briefing at which we were introduced to Dido Harding, my wife asked "How do you get to be a baroness?". "Marry a baron I suppose", I answered cynically, "or do something really useful". I added, generously. I looked her up. Turns out there's a third way, choose your grandfather well.  What follows is informed by Wikipedia.

Diana Mary "Dido" Harding, Baroness Harding of Winscombe is the daughter of Lord Harding, and the granddaughter of Field Marshal John Harding, 1st Baron Harding of Petherton, who commanded the Desert Rats in World War II. She was raised on the family pig farm in Dorset. She graduated from the University of Oxford in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, where she studied alongside David Cameron.

Her business career involved being marketing director at Thomas Cook Group (they ceased trading last year) and commercial director at Woolworths Group (remember Woolies?). She then joined Tesco as international support director (Tesco pulled out of the USA in 2013).

It was her job at TalkTalk that brought her to public attention. In October 2015, TalkTalk experienced a "significant and sustained cyber-attack", during which personal and banking details of up to four million customers is thought to have been accessed. City A.M. described her responses as "naive", noting that early on when asked if the affected customer data was encrypted or not, she replied: "The awful truth is that I don’t know". Her "inflexible line" on termination fees was also criticised. Marketing ran a headline, "TalkTalk boss Dido Harding's utter ignorance is a lesson to us all". The Evening Standard noted that "It has been a tough week for TalkTalk boss Dido Harding, facing complaints from customers and calls for her head." The company admitted the hack had cost it £60 million and lost it 95,000 customers.

In February 2017, Harding announced she would stand down after seven years as CEO of TalkTalk in May 2017, to focus more on her public service activities. In October of that year she was appointed chair of NHS Improvement, which is responsible for overseeing all NHS hospitals, comprising foundation trusts and NHS trusts, as well as independent providers that provide NHS-funded care.

In January 2018 Harding, herself a racehorse owner and rider, became a member of the Jockey Club's Board of Stewards, which runs many of British horse-racing's most popular events, including the Cheltenham Festival.

What? I hear you scream. Yes, that's right, the Cheltenham Festival was one of the key turning points in this government's abject failure to control the pandemic, ensuring we would be like the USA rather than like New Zealand. In May 2020, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that Harding was to be put in charge of the "Track, Test and Trace" effort as part of the UK government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course it is just a coincidence that she has a connection with the decision not to cancel Cheltenham. And it is just a coincidence that the NHS was found to be woefully under-equipped to deal with a pandemic while on Harding's watch as chair of NHS Improvement.

I'd love to know what Harding's view, as a Jockey Club board member and chair of NHS Improvement, was on the decision to allow the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead,

Anyway, they say poachers make the best gamekeepers.

The UK Government, having first tried all the wrong policies, has at last got round to promoting the correct action. Our job is to make sure that Test and Trace works.


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