It seems that, following the departure of Andy Coulson form Number 10, one or two Whitehall insiders think they’ve spotted another potential liability within the PM’s inner circle. According to government officials quoted in the Financial Times this week, Mr Cameron’s senior policy guru Steve Hilton has been a tad too unorthodox in his thinking for the average mandarin’s taste.One example cited was that the brain behind the government’s Big Society strategy apparently suggested, as part of a plan to boost productivity, that the government should suspend consumer rights for nine months to “see what would happen”.
Hmm, methinks what would happen is that ‘consumers’ (or ‘the entire electorate’ as they could accurately be labelled) would turn Parliament Square into Tahrir Square in fairly short order.
Female voters might be dismayed too, that Mr Hilton was quoted as saying that maternity rights were the single biggest obstacle to women finding work. His solution? Scrap them, before also scrapping all jobcentres as a waste of public money that could be replaced by “community groups” instead.
And, bringing new meaning to the term ‘blue-sky thinking’, another Hilton proposal when the Conservatives were in opposition was for public investment in cloudburst technology, in order to increase sunshine in the UK. It is due to such loopy suggestions that, according to the FT’s sources, the rest of Team Cameron routinely ignores roughly 75 per cent of the bright ideas that emerge from Mr Hilton’s legendary “Horizon Thinking” sessions.
That may be a blessing to us all, and Hilton may now have to be more careful about what he says in the presence of certain colleagues. But in the same week in which the Chancellor faced widespread criticism over his refusal to think of revisions to his current economic strategy amid disappointing GDP figures, it would be a shame if those in a position to advise ministers were discouraged from expressing original ideas – no matter how flippant or impractical – for fear of having them leaked to the press and mocked.
There’s a growing understanding across the both the public and private sectors that the only way out of our current economic impasse is to innovate and dare to be different. Some of Steve Hilton’s ideas may need a bit longer in focus groups, some may be utterly bonkers and others may just work. But at least we can safely say he’s taken the point about innovation on board.
As long as level-headed decision-making prevails, why should we ask government to self-censor its blue-sky thinking?