Boris Johnson accused of corrupting constitution over role for Lady Harding

Can Dido mix two high profile public service roles, subject to the civil service code, with her political role taking the Conservative whip in the Lords? – Owl

Oliver Wright, Policy Editor 

Boris Johnson has been accused by a former Labour lord chancellor of corrupting the constitution by appointing the Conservative peer Baroness Harding of Winscombe to a leading role in the fight against Covid-19.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, QC, said it was inappropriate for Lady Harding to have an executive role running the test and trace system as well as her appointment as head of the new National Institute for Health Protection.

He spoke out as Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Labour leader in the House of Lords, wrote to Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, asking for urgent clarification of what appeared to be a clear breach of civil service rules.

They argue that in both roles Lady Harding, 52, works as a public servant and is covered by the civil service code, which states that civil servants should not “act in a way determined by political considerations”. She sits as a backbench Tory peer and takes the Conservative whip.

Lord Falconer told The Observer yesterday that he had never known of anyone being allowed to mix public service and political roles in such a way and demanded that she either sit as a non-aligned crossbench peer or be appointed as a government minister. She could then be held accountable and answer questions in the upper house.

“It is such a corruption of our constitution to make a Tory backbencher in parliament a senior civil servant without any process and without even requiring the most basic rules of political impartiality,” Lord Falconer said.

Government sources said that Lady Harding, a former chief executive of TalkTalk, had shown herself to be accountable and had appeared last week before the science and technology select committee to answer questions about the Covid-19 testing system that she has led since May.

She was also tipped yesterday as a potential successor to Sir Simon Stevens, who is expected to stand down as head of NHS England next year.