The past week has been half term and I have spent it with my family in a lovely Cornish fishing village called Mevagissey. While largely detached from the political cut and thrust I took the chance to read More Human – a sort of personal manifesto by Steve Hilton who used to work in Downing Street for David Cameron much to the dismay of the Sir Humphrey element.
Prior to that I had seen various accounts of Mr Hilton’s narrative in the media – often from those I can only conclude were too busy to have had time to read it.
For all this talk about Mr Hilton being a modernising guru it turns out he is something of a traditionalist. I wonder if he has met the Prince of Wales? The pair could make such great allies.
Here is Mr Hilton on the subject of town planning:
“Home might be where the heart is, but when it comes to the communities in which we live and work, many urban planners and architects seem to have followed only their heads. Obsessed with their own notions of rationality, they spent the twentieth century experimenting with our neighbourhoods, often with awful results. There is no more iconic example of inhuman architecture than he work of Swiss architect Le Corbusier who inspired many of France’s urban housing projects in the mid-twentieth century – high-rises that have mostly served to isolate poor individuals from the rest of the community. The very term he used describe his buildings is exactly what’s wrong with them: ‘machines for living in.’ It’s hard to imagine a less human approach.”
Then there is the chapter on food:
“Banning factory farms, however we define them, won’t just be better for animals, it will make us better humans.”
Or on nature:
“Nature isn’t just beautiful, it’s practical.Nature can help us prevent floods, dampen tidal waves, filter water and clean the air. Nature is increasingly being recognised by engineers – not just environmentalists – as a way to provide essential services we otherwise would trust to machines and concrete and steel.”
Mr Hilton is not a fan of the EU. (“Spend time in Brussels and you will find in the European Parliament and Commission a vast, stinking cesspit of corporate corruption gussied up in the guise of idealistic internationalism.”) There has been some spin about him being “anti business” but really this means being anti bailouts and anti business subsidies. There is his indignation at inequality. But his favoured solution is leveling up not leveling down – “chucking bricks at the most successful will be largely futile; we have to narrow the gap by raising up those left behind.”
When it comes to it Mr Hilton is a closet traditionalist in terms of his values. That doesn’t mean he is a pessimist. The book is full of upbeat success stories – examples of how his approach to life can prove commercially viable. There is an open minded approach to new technology. Truly applied the libertarian approach of small government and free trade would allow for such Conservative objectives as stronger families and a better environment.
Some years ago there was a place in Covent Garden called the Alternative Bookshop. It would sell an array of free market literature – Hayek, Friedman, monographs from the Institute of Economic Affairs. However it’s proprietor Chris Tame felt that he would reach out to the uncoverted by giving it the feel of a left wing bookshop. Thus there would be sections on “feminist thought” and “anarchist thought” and a cunningly cultivated anti establishment scruffy feel.
Is Mr Hilton at the same game? Does he wonder around with just socks on his feet and his shirt hanging out to avoid being stereotyped as a member of the Tory tribe?
Perhaps. Or perhaps he just feels uncomfortable wearing a tie.
In any even his subversive approach is to be welcomed. While his dress sense may differ from the Prince of Wales their views broadly coincide. So does their influence in providing some independent thinking as an antidote to the grey men of Whitehall who cling so tightly to the status quo that is failing in many respects.