A Harding reigns gonna fall…
Dido Watch , Issue 1529
ME AND MY WOODEN SPOON: Dido Harding with the accolade she won twice for her work at TalkTalk
EYEBROWS were raised last week at the choice of Dido Harding to run the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP), given her wretched record with track-and-trace.

But seasoned Dido-watchers weren’t surprised. For the most striking feature of this ex-jockey’s career is a talent for changing horses in mid-stream, seldom staying long enough to shoulder the blame for disasters:

1995: After a stint as a trainee management consultant at McKinsey, 27-year-old Dido gets her first proper job: marketing director, no less, at Thomas Cook. “Thomas Cook spends a long time contemplating its navel,” an exec from a rival firm tells Marketing Week. “It is in character for it to recruit a consultant rather than a doer.” Harding takes the criticism in her stride: “It is common for consultants to be thought of as eggheads who don’t know what they’re doing. I want to prove I can do things before the label sticks.”

1997: Interviewed by Travel Trade Gazette, Harding makes a virtue of her ignorance. “I am not ashamed to say I do not know the travel industry as well as my colleagues. But in a team I think I bring a new perspective.”

1998: When she was hired, Thomas Cook said Harding would “look at the future for the business in five to 10 years’ time”. But after four years she is off, moving to employment services group Manpower as “senior vice-president, strategic marketing Europe”.

1999: Time for another change of horses: Harding becomes commercial director of struggling retail group Woolworths.

2000: After less than a year she gallops off to join Tesco as “commercial director for value added foods”.

2004: She is now Tesco’s “international support director”, responsible for its overseas ventures. In 2003, Dido told the Guardian that she hopes “still to be with Tesco in five years’ time”. So, inevitably…

2007: Dido deserts Tesco for arch-rivals Sainsbury: after an obligatory few months of gardening leave, in March 2008 she starts work as head of Sainsbury convenience stores. But not for long.

2009: In December, Harding announces she will join TalkTalk as chief executive in March 2010.

2011: TalkTalk incurs a £3m fine from Ofcom for sending thousands of customers inaccurate bills. The firm has to shell out a further £2.5m in refunds. During her time at TalkTalk she twice wins the Daily Mail’s wooden spoon award for providing “the worst customer service in the UK”.

2014: Dido’s old university chum David Cameron gives her a seat in parliament as a Tory peer.

2015: Cyber-criminals access the financial and personal details of more than 150,000 TalkTalk customers. Asked if the data was encrypted or not, chief executive Baroness Harding sighs: “The awful truth is that I don’t know.” Almost 100,000 customers leave TalkTalk and profits are halved.

2017: Harding leaves TalkTalk to try her hand at “public service activities”. She becomes chair of NHS Improvement, responsible for overseeing all NHS hospitals, but tells MPs on the health select committee: “I have not worked in health and social care and would be the first to admit I have a lot to learn about the sector.” She also airily rejected the MPs’ call to resign the Tory whip while holding what should be an independent post. Then along comes Covid…

2020: Following her brief, calamitous spell as track-and-trace supremo, Lady H is to chair the new NIHP. Matt Hancock dismisses MPs’ mutterings about her lack of health credentials, assuring ITV News she has “excellent experience”. Indeed, by her previous standards three years at the NHS probably do count as a wealth of experience. With Dido on board, the NIHP can now look to the future as confidently as, say, Thomas Cook or Woolworths...

More top stories in the latest issue:

An incident at the Cheltenham Festival back in March suggests Dido Harding, boss of the new health protection body, has much to learn about public health.

As the PM tries to shift the blame for inept handling of the Covid crisis on to civil servants, enter Lord Maude for yet another Cabinet Office “review”.

Management consultants from McKinsey are now extending their influence on government beyond the safety of Whitehall to the actual military front line.

The exams algorithm fiasco is unlikely to be a one-off as research suggests use of artificial intelligence is often ineffective and creates big new problems.

Serco’s fat contract to provide outsourced contact tracing is full of holes – passages redacted due to commercial “political”, shurely? Ed) sensitivity.

US states from Florida to Texas, which copied England’s unique experiment in the privatisation of contact tracing, are seeing the same problems emerge.

Arts Council England is insisting on pay freezes for top earners in groups that receive its emergency aid, but no such pay restraint is planned at ACE itself.

Why the wheels immediately fell off the £50 “Fix Your Bike” voucher scheme launched by transport secretary Grant Shapps and now awaiting puncture repair.

The new ‘CovidNudge’ test that gives results in under 90 minutes gets glowing praise from Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell – but others are more circumspect.

Ex-Leeds Utd MD David Haigh and his doctor are humiliated as a judge rejects attempts to delay hearings into the fate of millions of pounds of embezzled cash.

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Next issue on sale: 6th October 2020
Private Eye Issue 1529
In This Issue
Temporary ‘Nightingale’ universities to be built across UK to resolve clearing crisis… Is Russia meddling in Russian election after attempted murder of opposition leader?:... Steve Bannon charged with fraud for ‘passing off Donald Trump as a president’… Me and My Spoon, with Dido Harding… UK adds UK to 14-day quarantine list… Scientists amazed to find small amounts of water amidst all the plastic in world’s oceans… ‘I’m not Trump’ – That historic Biden campaign speech in full… Harry and Meghan: Our Blueprint for the Future of Humanity, as told to Craig Brown

Wealth cheques
The ex-ministers and others cashing in

Operatic tenners
New ROH chair has a wealth of (bad) experience

Virgin rescue
How billionaire Beardie pulled it off

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6th October 2020
Private Eye Issue 1528