Cameron’s Mr Blue Sky: how we found out our own policies from the papers

On sabbatical in California, Steve Hilton reveals ‘horror’ at how No 10 really works

As one of the Prime Minister’s closest Downing Street advisers, he was known for his blue-sky thinking, his bare feet and his bike.

Now safely ensconced in California, Steve Hilton is railing against British bureaucracy in a way only he would – sitting in a polo shirt with his feet up, chewing mints and sipping a drink.

His attitude to teaching might be – literally – laid-back, but 5,000 miles from the political infighting of Whitehall, Steve Hilton has laid bare to American students the extent of confusion and the lack of control at the heart of the British Government.

David Cameron often found out about his own Government’s policies second-hand, from stories in newspapers and on radio, he said, revealing his “horror” at the powerlessness of Number 10 to control Government decisions. The architect of Mr Cameron’s “Big Society,” who is widely thought to have inspired the character Stewart Pearson in political satire The Thick Of It, claimed the Prime Minister was often left in the dark about policy changes by anonymous “paper-shuffling” Whitehall mandarins.

“Very often you’ll wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or in the news or see something in the newspapers about something the Government is doing,” he told a group of Stanford University students. “And you think, well, just hang on a second – it’s not just that we didn’t know it was happening, but we don’t even agree with it.”

In an account published by the Sunday Times, he is said to have told students that only 30 per cent of government time was spent delivering policies they were “supposed” to be delivering, while 40 per cent was spent implementing EU regulations.

“It just shows you the scale of what you are up against,” he said. “When I found that out it was pretty horrific. It’s a brilliant system for paper-shuffling people to be in control.”

Mr Hilton made the remarks to students during an hour-long seminar, entitled “How to Make Change Happen in Government”. Downing Street announced in May last year that Mr Hilton was taking a year’s unpaid sabbatical to spend more time with his wife and family, but friends said he had become increasingly dismayed at the influence wielded by the Liberal Democrats within the Coalition. He took up a post as a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for international studies, and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

A source of considerable tension in Mr Hilton’s last months were disputes with Whitehall. He is believed to have referred to Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the civil service, as “Bungalow Bob” and suggested he was trying to protect underperforming staff from cuts.

Rumoured to be returning to Downing Street in time to play a role in the 2015 election campaign, Mr Hilton told the students that he had recently been “chatting” to the Prime Minister. A Number 10 spokesman declined to comment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable