One of the few people to have won unqualified praise from Dominic Cummings during Wednesday’s marathon session in front of MPs was the former “vaccines tsar” Kate Bingham.
A venture capitalist, Bingham was appointed the unpaid chair of the UK’s vaccine taskforce in May last year and has been credited with leading a team that allowed the country to forge ahead with its vaccine programme.
But Cummings’ testimony described a toxic backstabbing environment in Whitehall, and how there were negative briefings against people such as Bingham from within the government.
Though the prime minister had asked Bingham to lead the taskforce, MPs heard the briefings against her were said to be coming from within No 10.
The revealing exchange began when the science committee chair, Greg Clark, explained how Bingham had gone through a difficult time last autumn when she was being “criticised in a lot quarters … and some of that briefing was alleged to have come from No 10”.
Cummings said he was aware she was being briefed against, though he denied it was anyone from his team in Downing Street.
“I was aware that there were briefings against her,” he said. “I was told at the time by officials that they thought most of this had come from DH [Department of Health] but like most of these things one never really got to the bottom of it.
“The closest we got to it was essentially people in the system feeling either their noses were out of joint or jealous about her profile.”
He added: “People who had dropped massively lucrative careers to come and help also got thrashed in the press by parts of Whitehall, which I thought was terrible and Kate, I think, got caught in that sort of crossfire.”
Clark then asked whether Cummings was familiar with the suggestion that Bingham had threatened to go public because of Downing Street’s “radio silence” at a time when she needed defending.
“All I remember is there was some briefing against her,” said Cummings. “I asked at a couple of meetings where is this briefing coming from. The best guess of people in No 10 was parts of Whitehall had their noses put out of joint.”
Earlier in the hearing, Cummings said “senior people” had expressed concerns that Bingham was no longer at the taskforce’s helm.
“Lots of people have expressed concerns to me that since Kate Bingham has left … there hasn’t been the aggressive approach some in government want to think through variants and vaccine taskforce.”