Political visionaries don’t always enjoy universal respect. For those who prefer their politics down to earth, the ‘blue skies thinker’ is a blessed nuisance. Nevertheless, a political party that has the confidence to entertain the weird, but sometimes wonderful, ideas of its most fertile minds is on to a good thing.
Consider the ‘New Right’ intellectuals who laid the groundwork for Thatcherism; or the policy wonks, clustered around the Demos think tank, who did the same for New Labour in the 1990s. One shouldn’t exaggerate the role of either group in the electoral victories that were to follow – but, at the very least, lofty thoughts create an expectation that mighty deeds may be just around the corner. Notably, Ed Miliband dispensed with the ‘Blue Labour’ thinkers who are the strongest sign of intelligent life in the Labour Party, and look what happened to him.
In short, every aspiring Prime Minister needs a guru. In the case of David Cameron the man who stepped into those shoes (or rather out of them) was Steve Hilton. Whatever their respective flaws, Hilton made a vital contribution to Tory modernisation and the latter a vital contribution to the wins of 2010 and 2015.
Last week, Hilton was back in Britain launching his new book More Human – which is bursting with big ideas. Yet, despite his passion for the possibilities opened up by new technology, his biggest idea is an old one: the traditional family.
Far from regarding family breakdown as a form of liberation, Hilton sees it as a massively retrograde step. Writing for the Daily Mail, he tears into the liberal establishment for denying the painful truth:
“…the ruling elite too often accepts fashionable orthodoxy as a means to an easier life, even if that received wisdom is causing profound damage to our society…
“…The last Government… made a start by reintroducing the married couples’ tax allowance. Tellingly, this was done in the teeth of ferocious opposition from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and a nexus of pressure groups, campaigners and lobbyists.”
We now have a mountain of evidence to show that marriage is a force for social progress:
“There is nothing remotely reactionary or oppressive about support for married life. Its absence leads to welfare dependency. Its presence is a weapon against poverty and lack of ambition.
“The stronger a family unit, the more children will be able to turn to their parents for guidance in the minefield that modern life has become for the young.”
The contribution that marriage makes to the life chances of children should also be obvious from the fact that it is what the rich and educated still choose for their own families. What a shame then, that they’re so reluctant to promote these benefits for the good of society as a whole.
Hilton claims that “officialdom” has a “terror of imposing judgments on anyone.” Except that’s not quite true. The liberal elite are enthusiastically judgemental about all sorts of lifestyle issues – in regard to smoking, drinking, lack of exercise and so forth they’re more than willing to put us right.
Similarly, when contrarians deny the evidence on, say, climate change – or claim that there’s nothing that can be done about it, metropolitan types are the first to tut their disapproval.
However, on the equally strong evidence that marriage works, it is they who are the denialists and the defeatists.
Thank goodness, then, for Steve Hilton – a member of the smart set who’s willing to preach what he practices.