Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
You can divide political people into two categories – dreamers and doers. The dreamers write idealistic papers for worthy think tanks and comment pieces for newspapers – but give them a sniff of power or office and they suddenly become like anyone else, part of the machine. Inevitably, the machine eats them up and spits them out.
That’s what happened to Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s besocked adviser who quit Downing Street after two years, fed up with the civil service establishment stymying his ideas before they had got off the ground. He decided there was little point in staying, so he upped sticks to California where he started a family with his wife, Rachel Whetstone, another former Cameron adviser.
Known as the best Prime Minister we never had, R A Butler once said that politics was the ‘art of the possible’. Hilton, in his new book, rages against the status quo and encourages us to take power back for ourselves. He mixes libertarian individualism with the kind of idealism espoused by Natalie Bennett. He warns of danger if we keep shrugging our shoulders about what is happening in the worlds of politics, business, education, and much more besides.
And of course he’s right. As citizens, we should all take an active part in our democracy. If we lazily leave it to others, we end up with the sad state of affairs in which fewer than two thirds of us bother to vote, and only a fraction of us bother to watch Leader Debates during an election campaign. I asked a 20 year old friend of mine how his friends had voted in the election. He told me that half of them hadn’t, and that the others had all used Apps to tell them who they should vote for. This is the future.
Hilton’s is the latest in a long line of books which the publishers surely hope will become the next big thing to be talked about by the metropolitan elites. But it will have failed if that’s all it achieves. It’s better than that. For a start, it’s readable – something that the likes of Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan certainly wasn’t. It exhorts us to be more human – which, although not exactly very original, actually gets you thinking about why, as a society, we are becoming less human and more robotic and sclerotic by the decade.
For someone like me who’s more into practice than theory, there are times when the narrative descends into ‘bollocksy’ prose, which you have to read a couple of times before you finally ‘get it’, but there are some deeply original ideas in this book. The shame of it is that David Cameron is no longer benefitting from them. When Hilton left for California, it wasn’t just because the civil service put barriers in his way at every pass: he had grown disillusioned with the way the Liberal Democrats were determined to do the same. You get the feeling that a small part of him would relish the opportunities that a Conservative majority would give him. But he’s made his bed, and this means he’s lost to Britain for the moment.
Were I a Labour leadership candidate, I’d put this book on my summer reading list and fillet it for good ideas, of which there are many. Actually, anyone interested in democracy, in reform, and in challenging conventional thought and how individuals can make a difference ought to read this book.
The challenge for Steve Hilton is to turn his ideas involving more humanity into practice. And he can only do that by following his own advice, and standing for electoral office. There’s soon to be a vacancy for Mayor of London…
“More Human” by Steve Hilton is published by W.H.Allen.