A former deputy Cabinet Secretary, Helen MacNamara, has testified to a parliamentary inquiry about the toxic and macho culture that existed in Downing Street at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In her evidence, MacNamara highlighted the use of violent and misogynistic language by Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. MacNamara revealed that Cummings referred to her as a derogatory term in WhatsApp messages and threatened to physically remove her from the building.
MacNamara expressed her surprise and disappointment that Boris Johnson, who was part of the same WhatsApp group, did not intervene in the use of such offensive language. She criticized the lack of intervention from the Prime Minister, stating that it was far from what is considered proper or decent. MacNamara went on to describe the working environment in Downing Street as unpleasant, citing a "macho" culture where ego and "bad behaviors" were tolerated.
During her testimony, MacNamara also raised concerns about the lack of female voices in meetings and stated that junior female staff were often talked over. She explained that there was a "low-trust environment" between officials and Boris Johnson's team, which had been exacerbated by the Brexit wrangling leading up to the pandemic.
In addition to her testimony about the toxic culture, MacNamara criticized former health secretary Matt Hancock for repeatedly providing false information to officials and ministers during the early stages of the pandemic. MacNamara described a meeting with Hancock in which he adopted a cricket batting stance and claimed that everything was "fine."
The inquiry also heard that MacNamara had written an email to female colleagues about the culture in and around Downing Street. WhatsApp messages shared with the inquiry revealed Cummings' derogatory language towards MacNamara, which she described as both surprising and not surprising.
MacNamara's testimony sheds light on the toxic work environment and the alleged use of sexist and misogynistic language within the highest office of the UK government. This evidence raises questions about the leadership and accountability within Downing Street during a critical period of the COVID-19 pandemic.