Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s Director of Strategy, is subject to a strong attack in the latest edition of Standpoint magazine. The attack contains at least two inaccuracies in the first paragraph. It overstates his salary (although it is still very considerable) and suggests that he campaigned for Michael Portillo (not true).
But I don’t want to get into a line-by-line examination of the piece. Steve Hilton brings two big advantages to the Cameron project:
- First, he guards and promotes its big idea – that the long-term health of our country depends upon a revitalisation of everything that lies between the individual and the state. Within the Cameron circle he defends and promotes the idea constantly. It’s an idea I share. It’s the big idea at the heart of Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice. David Willetts called it civic conservatism. Oliver Letwin called it the neighbourly society. Chris Patten talked of bigger citizens and a smaller state. It’s the conservatism of Burkean small platoons. The Berger-Neuhaus vision of people-sized institutions. Helping individuals off welfare; giving local people control of policing; strengthening genuinely local schools; helping families to stick together; a bigger role for voluntary organisations. The state has become so big in Britain because society is weak. As it has got bigger society has become weaker in a vicious cycle. There’ll be neither social justice nor a smaller state if we can’t find ways of making society stronger. That’s the Hilton vision and its’s fundamentally conservative.
- Second, he’s more strategic than tactical. It’s true he has constant brainwaves that flame brightly for a short period, that he wants implemented immediately and then often burn out. But many work and his overall disposition is to keep the Conservative Party committed to the long haul task of focusing on social renewal. David Cameron – like most party leaders – is surrounded by many tacticians. Hilton’s big picture focus is rare and precious.
It’s probably true that ‘Early Cameron’ relied too much on Steve Hilton. It’s good that the Tory leader is now surrounded by a broader group of advisers, not least Andy Coulson who has led the evolution to a ‘pub ready’ operation. As ‘Team Cameron’ has become more balanced so, too, has the message broadened.
Steve has been in California for much of the last few months. He’s in London for a week every month and will be here all through May for the European and local elections. His time abroad ends in July when he returns to Britain for good.
12.45pm: Robert Halfon’s view