By Peter Hoskin
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Even from America, Steve Hilton
makes waves that lap at our shores. The Sunday Times reports (£)
on a seminar that David Cameron’s policy-chief-on-sabbatical recently gave to
students at Stanford University — and, boy, does it contain some spicy quotes
about government and its frustrations. Mr Hilton complained that, in his
often you’ll wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or the news or see
something in the newspapers about something the government is doing. And you
think, well, hang on a second — it’s not just that we didn’t know it was
happening, but we don’t even agree with it! The government can be doing things
… and we don’t agree with it? How can that be?”
he went on to explain how “the bureaucracy masters the politicians”, with a
particular emphasis on paperwork. By Mr Hilton’s calculations, about 40 per
cent of the Government’s to-do tray is filled with directives from the EU.
Another 30 per cent is related to “random things… which were not anything to do
with the Coalition Agreement”. And that means that:
“…only 30% of what the government is doing is
actually delivering what we’re supposed to be doing. It just shows you the
scale of what you’re up against… When I found that out, that was pretty
In truth, none of this should
come as a shock. We knew about Mr Hilton’s disgruntlement with the clunking
machinery of British government even before he departed from No.10, and more so
afterwards. And it was, I believe, Tim who first revealed that 40/30/30 split
in a blog-post
for this site.
But it’s still striking to hear
Mr Hilton vent these frustrations in public — and in such blunt terms, too. Indeed,
if you were to play armchair psychologist, you might guess that these remain
raw, itchy memories for the man. It does not sound as though he’s eager to
return to Downing Street any time soon.
Of course, the official line is
that Mr Hilton is just on a break from his job, and hasn’t actually quit permanently.
But the truth is that few, if any, people in Westminster are certain about his
future intentions. The possibility that he may never settle back into his
former role is a very real one, and it ought to worry the Conservative Party.
As the Sunday Times says in its leader
column (£) today, the Government needs energetic, radical thinkers such as
So, what might draw him back? Harder,
better, faster and stronger reform of the civil service, of the sort that
Francis Maude now appears
to be delivering, is surely one thing. Repatriation of powers from Europe,
or at least the prospect of repatriation, might also help. Again, none of this
is really a surprise.
But there are other problems that
may need dealing with. In an excellent
post over at his blog, Damian McBride — yes, he of Team Brown fame and
shame — suggests that Mr Hilton’s complaints may have much to do with failings
in No.10’s political operation. I won’t spoil his full argument here, suffice
to say that it involves the question, “What on earth has happened to the No.10
grid system?” It seems that a lot will need fixing if Mr Hilton is ever to make
happy, fulltime return to government.