Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

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Steve Hilton

Department: Office of David Cameron

Position: Director of Strategy

Last Updated: Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Steve Hilton is the Conservative Party’s Director of Strategy. A contemporary of the Conservative leader in the Conservative Research Department in the early 1990s he was principal adviser to David Cameron’s 2005 leadership bid. Steve Hilton guards and promotes Project Cameron’s biggest two ideas. Idea one is that the long-term health of Britain depends upon a revitalisation of all of the social institutions that lie between the individual and the state. It’s also the big idea at the heart of Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice, of which Hilton is a big admirer.

David Willetts, now overseeing family policy, called this theme civic conservatism. Oliver Letwin called it the neighbourly society. Chris Patten talked of bigger citizens and a smaller state. Its policy ingredients include 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 second big idea was unpacked in the ‘Control Shift’ green paper and covers the idea of decentralisation, transparency and accountability – what he describes as the “post-bureaucratic age”. Rohan Silva in George Osborne’s office works most closely with Hilton in developing this theme. In partnership with Oliver Letwin MP, Director of Conservative Party Policy Development, Hilton has ensured that the Project Cameron’s launch themes – social justice; environmental responsibility; a preference for budgetary caution over lower taxation; change through non-governmental action; and ‘lovebombing’ of Liberal Democrat voters – have remained at the heart of Conservative strategy.

Although he remains the number one strategic influence on David Cameron his influence has eroded somewhat for three unrelated reasons. Andy Coulson’s arrival has added another powerful voice to the leader’s circle. Hilton is less influential on economic policy and the recession has made this a much bigger focus for the Conservative Party. And third, Hilton’s year in California may have refreshed some of his thinking but it has made him slightly less involved. That period ends in July 2009 although he is expected to retain his now trademark Californian dress style of t-shirt and shorts. Working with Ameet Gill’s speechwriting team, Hilton takes charge of David Cameron’s biggest speeches although Michael Gove often plays a big role too. The set piece Party Conference speeches are coordinated by him. He authored the important Open University speech on devolving power. He also oversees the strategic grid although this timetable of major announcements is managed on a day-to-day basis by Tim Chatwin, effectively his deputy.

Hilton was a protégé of former Tory Chairman Maurice Saatchi and helped design the ‘New Labour New Danger’ campaign against New Labour in 1997. Outside of politics he formed the Good Business company and its championing of corporate responsibility has been a theme he has applied to the modernisation of the Conservative brand. One close observer of the Conservative Party’s inner circle said “We take it for granted that Cameron and Hilton have a really special and warm bond. Many don’t fully understand that. Cameron’s tactic is to cherry-pick his friend’s best ideas. He lets Steve be Steve and gets the best out of him.” Hilton, 39, is married to Rachel Whetstone, former Political Secretary to Michael Howard when he was Tory leader and now a Vice-President of Google. He studied PPE at Oxford University. They have an eighteen month old son, Ben.

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