Johnson failed to act on ‘misogynistic language’ used by Cummings, says top civil servant

A former senior Downing Street official has criticized Boris Johnson for failing to act against his former top adviser Dominic Cummings when he used what she described as “violent and misogynistic language” against her.

Helen MacNamara was giving evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry a day after a Cummings appearance when asked about reports suggesting he tried to sack her, saying No 10 was “dodging stilettos out of that cunt”.

MacNamara, who served as deputy cabinet secretary, told the inquiry: “The way it was deemed appropriate to describe what should happen to me, yes, as a woman, but yes, as a civil servant it is disappointing to me that the Prime Minister did not notice the use of some of that violent and misogynistic language.”

Asked what she thought of Cummings’ WhatsApp messages and Johnson’s apparent inability to act, she said: “It’s a far cry from what is right, appropriate or decent, or what the country deserves.”

In the latest inquiry hearing that laid bare the extent of conflict and dysfunction in Downing Street during the pandemic, MacNamara spoke of a “toxic environment” in which female civil servants found they had “become invisible overnight”. It was talked about or ignored, she said, while Downing Street meetings were dominated by men and the country functioned without the input of women, including experts, at a time when it needed it most.

Dominic Cummings questioned about ‘misogynistic’ posts during Covid inquiry – video highlights

In addition to her criticism of Johnson and Cummings, there were accusations from MacNamara about the actions of then Health Secretary Matthew Hancock. She said he had routinely claimed during meetings that certain things would happen, or that certain things would happen, but that turned out not to be the case.

When Andrew O’Connor QC asked the inquiry whether Hancock “regularly told people things that they later discovered were not true”, she replied: “Yes.”

Until now, MacNamara is best known to the public for her role in Partygate, where she apologized in April last year for her “lapse of judgement” after being fined by police for attending a party at the Cabinet Office during the lockdown. She provided a karaoke machine for the event, which was reportedly one of the raunchiest gatherings under investigation.

She told the inquiry she was “deeply sorry” for the situation, but had to be reminded by O’Connor that she was in Downing Street during one of the events that led to fines, after she claimed: “I was certainly not. partying in number 10.”

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She said she was concerned about the “kind of culture” the staff worked in and the need for space to spend time together. “My deep regret is the damage this has caused to so many people, as well as the humiliating experience of seeing what that looks like and how rightly offended everyone is in retrospect,” she said.

MacNamara suggested that rules are broken daily just in the conduct of government business. There was “one meeting (a cabinet meeting) where we were absolutely adhering to the guidelines and everyone was complaining about it and trying to change it repeatedly,” she said. “So I know how exceptional it was to really, really, really follow the guidelines. I think in retrospect, of course, everything was wrong.”

Previously, the inquiry heard MacNamara characterize the early approach of Boris Johnson and those around him when it came to the challenge of Covid as macho and ‘incredibly bullish’ confident.

“This in itself was nothing new, but it seemed even more than normal. We would beat the world in overcoming Covid-19 and everything else,” she said in her statement.