Skip to main content

The woman who will sell our NHS to the United States

In the week test and trace has been declared inadequate, PETER FROST finds out a bit more about the woman friend Prime Minister Johnson put in charge. He calls her his Dido

PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson likes to give the impression he is an accomplished classicist. 

He thinks the occasional, often dodgy, Latin phrase slipped into an otherwise incoherent speech gives him an aura of superior intelligence. 

Sorry, old boy, but we know you barely scraped a 2:1 in what is universally known as the posh boy’s soft subject — classics.

If you have read Johnson’s novel, Seventy Two Virgins — fat chance of that, I hear you say — you will have found two of the badly drawn characters are a modern-day Aeneas and Dido. 

The original Dido, Queen of Carthage, was abandoned by her lover Aeneas when he discovered a higher destiny than loyalty to her. 

It’s fairly clear that Johnson the novelist sees himself in the role of Trojan hero Aeneas and clearly our hero really fancies Dido until he moves on.

Truthfully, none of his female characters have much depth. Almost it seems his style is to love ’em and leave ’em. 

He isn’t even sure how many offspring his Trojan adventures have brought forth. But this is only fiction, or so it says on the cover. 

Johnson’s powerful prose can really uncover the full intellectual depth of his female characters. Here is an example “… like a lingerie model only cleverer, and, if anything, with bigger breasts.” Almost Dickensian, isn’t it?

Surprise, surprise, Boris does have a real Dido in his life. How close the couple are is a tightly kept secret, but we do know Prime Minister Johnson has made her chairwoman of NHS Improvement.

So let’s meet Johnson’s Dido. Her real name is Diana Mary Harding, Baroness Harding of Winscombe. 

She has long been close mates with Johnson and before him she studied policy, politics and economics at Oxford alongside David Cameron.  

These long-term political friendships have placed her in the leadership of the corrupt political cabal the runs Britain today. 

Most people first heard her name when in early May this year Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that she had been appointed to head up the introduction of the new world-beating coronavirus test and trace system.

Later in May the Prime Minister told the House of Commons liaison committee that Dido, as he liked to call her, was a senior NHS executive.  

This was a strange way to introduce someone who didn’t work for the NHS, had never worked for the NHS and had certainly never been a senior NHS executive. 

Yes, it was another complete Johnson lie.

In fact she is a businesswoman, with some interesting failures and shortcomings in her business career. 

But she is married to a Tory MP and close to the Prime Minister — just the qualification you need to be drafted in as something called chair of NHS Improvement.

Her husband is John Penrose, Tory MP for Weston-super-Mare. Penrose is a key member of the advisory board of a right-wing Tory think tank called 1828. 

This think tank argues Britain should scrap the NHS in favour of an insurance-based system. Sounds like the softening-up of British opinion before we sell our wonderful NHS to some US pirate health set-up.

1828 has also called for the abolition of Public Health England, which has a key role in the coronavirus test and trace system now headed by, yes, you guessed it, Dido Harding.

Harding’s first job was to get test and trace off the ground. Clearly, the world-beating app we had all heard so much about was the key part of test and trace. 

It failed to test or trace at all and was quietly pushed aside to play a minor support role (ie, no role at all).

One reason the test and trace system didn’t work too well was because it isn’t run, as you might expect, by the NHS, but by Serco, the company that has become unbelievably rich from innumerable privatisations and public contracts.  

Serco has built a strong reputation over the years for inefficiency, money-wasting and not worrying too much about breaking the law. 

It has already illegally released the email addresses of some of its Covid-19 contact tracers.

Many working for test and trace describe it as chaotic, so how the government gave Serco the job is a mystery. Transparent process? Competitive tender? No. 

Just as puzzling is how the woman Johnson calls Dido came to be in charge of the entire shooting match. 

So how did Johnson’s Dido get the job? When you know her background there is little real mystery. 

Silver spoons and mouths come into her early story. She is the daughter of the late John Charles Harding, 2nd Baron Harding of Petherton, an army officer and hereditary peer.

She went to a private school and Oxford, where one of her friends was David Cameron. A Harvard MBA followed.

Always keen on horses down on the pig farm, she became a successful jockey.

She worked in a series of jobs until in 2010, for no clear reason, she was appointed as CEO of mobile phone giant TalkTalk.

With Dido at the helm, TalkTalk, in October 2015, lost the personal and banking details of about four million of its customers. 

Harding was severely criticised for her ignorance about hacking and her incompetent response to this disaster.  

The Information Commissioner’s Office imposed a record fine of £400,000. 

TalkTalk lost £42 million and over 100,000 customers. Amazingly, CEO Harding kept her job.
Rich Tories, like Dido Harding are rarely content with one job. Certainly she started to collect a few additional large pay packets. 

In 2014 she became a non-executive director of the Bank of England’s court of directors. 

At the bank she chairs the committee that decides our nationalised bankers’ pay. Her usual recommendation is “shitloads.”

Ex- jockey Harding also became a director of the Jockey Club, which runs British horseracing.

By now her old pal Cameron had elevated her to the House of Lords. He needed people who, like her, thought that maternity leave is too generous and held a bunch of other equally reactionary opinions. 

She became Baroness Harding of Winscombe in September 2014. She, of course, took the Tory whip. After all, since 1995 she had been married to a Tory MP. 

By May 2017 Harding had finally left her job at TalkTalk. Five months later, despite her disastrous track record, she emerged, after a supposedly open recruitment process, as the minister’s choice for the new post of chair of the board of NHS Improvement. 

Pay £62,000 for two to three days a week. 

That would pay for a good few care home workers, many of whom have laid down their lives fighting the virus. 

Even the House of Commons select committee on health commented on her complete lack of experience of the health world. 

It also recommended that Harding should give up the Conservative whip in the House of Lords. Did she give it up? Not on your nelly.

It’s a bit unfair to suggest Harding knows nothing about dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

For two weeks in March, Johnson’s government couldn’t make up its mind about the need for a lockdown. The virus rampaged through the country.  

The decision to allow mass gatherings certainly helped to spread coronavirus faster.  

The largest of these was the Cheltenham Horseracing Festival, which attracted over a quarter of a million people in March. 

The Jockey Club’s selfish and disastrous decision not to cancel the festival will rank as one of the worst examples of putting profits ahead of people’s health. 

Nearly 200 people died of coronavirus in local hospitals after the event, which is also generally believed to have sent hundreds of infected racing fans back to Ireland.  

Harding was a director of the Jockey Club and racecourse committee director at Cheltenham when the festival went ahead. 

We know the Jockey Club board lobbied the government to allow the festival to proceed but Harding has refused to talk about her role in this.

Whether Harding will make a success of her current job is open to question. 

The associated app, trialled on the Isle of Wight, has disappeared without trace.  

Early reports suggest that Serco’s practical arrangements for recruiting and training trackers are chaotic.
No surprise, really. Our Tory masters have dozens of examples of giving failed firms like Serco and G4S plum public contracts loaded with bonuses. 

Nurses and other healthcare workers of course get public applause in lieu of decent wages.  

The NHS’s proven management could do the job cheaper and better than Serco but if we give it to the public health professionals there will no shareholder payouts, which are the guiding measure of Tory success.  

Add to this the fact that over the years the Tory cuts in public spending and reduced funding for local authorities have deliberately weakened the ability of local government to operate public health schemes.

Even when she fails, Harding is will simply be given another position in the Tory old boys’ (even if they are girls) network. 

Today in Britain it is still the same old story. Top jobs come not from ability but from the private education and social connections your parents have bought you. 

Even in 2020 we have a Cabinet made up in the main of Eton-educated men.

Dido Harding appears alongside Johnson at the Westminster coronavirus TV briefings. 

He flashes his lecherous leer and calls her his Dido, his coronavirus saviour. In reply she flatters him and agrees with him directing coy admiring glances in his direction.

I reach for the sickbag. 

Sickbag? Can this be the first symptom? Is it the virus? Where do I find that bloody test and track number?


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 11,195
We need:£ 6,805
12 Days remaining
Donate today