Is it over for 'vote Blue, go Green' as guru exits?

Campaigners fear that, with Cameron's aide Steve Hilton off to the US, No10 is set to abandon the environment

In one of Steve Hilton's more eye-catching stunts, in spring 2006 hemp bags containing silver birch saplings were handed out at a press conference to launch David Cameron's "vote blue, go green" strategy to detoxify the Tory brand.

The bemused journalists held in their hands the literal manifestation of what was billed as the new Tory leader's embrace of the environment, to the astonishment of Conservative climate sceptics.

But, as the Prime Minister's self-styled policy guru prepares to uproot and move to the US for a year, there is a fresh battle between the green zealots and those who say nothing must stand in the way of economic growth.

With less than three weeks until the Budget, hard-line Tories are demanding that George Osborne dumps regulations that protect habitats in order to unleash a wave of economy-boosting housebuilding in the green belt.

Environmentalists, rural campaigners and even many coalition MPs fear the departure of Hilton and panic at the absence of growth will cause lasting damage to the environment, along with the Prime Minister's boast that he would lead the "greenest government ever".

It is all a far cry from the early days of Cameron's leadership, when Hilton was the architect of a rebranding that saw the new Tory chief hug huskies, cycle to the Commons and adopt a scrawled tree as a logo.

Hilton is nothing if not an optimist. From the Big Society to the "Happiness Index" and saving the planet, he has wanted to embrace the best in people. His decision to spend his year off in California, where his wife will work full time for Google, is no accident. He will join Stanford as a visiting scholar at the university's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. "He is enthusiastic, he is high energy, he is dress-down," says a friend. "He is very American in that sense."

Yet, as the economic situation worsened towards the end of the last decade, Hilton's optimistic flourishes which marked Cameron's early leadership speeches – letting happiness "win the day" – were overshadowed by dark clouds of austerity. The environment was relegated as a priority. In last year's autumn statement, the Chancellor declared: "We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers."

While no fan of Hilton's brand of blue-sky thinking, the Liberal Democrats know they have lost an ally on the green agenda who will be difficult to replace. They worry, too, about the loss of Chris Huhne who, as Energy and Climate Change Secretary, openly challenged Osborne to back the green agenda.

In his first interview since joining the Cabinet, his replacement, Ed Davey, tells The Independent on Sunday today: "I am completely committed to the ambition for this to be the greenest government ever. It's easy to say but difficult to do. To bring it to fruition will be one of those things where people will look back and think 'that's where they changed, the economy and society changed'."

But evidence is mounting to the contrary. The coalition is embroiled in a court battle over the ending of subsidies for solar power; progress is slow on the Green Deal to make homes more energy-efficient; attacks on onshore wind farms from Tory MPs have resurfaced, with Cameron wading in at Prime Minister's Questions last week to claim they had been "wasteful of public money".

With less than three weeks until the Budget, the Treasury is studying a blueprint from the think tank Policy Exchange, calling for thousands of homes to be built on brownfield and greenfield sites, unless half of local people object.

Neil O'Brien, Policy Exchange director, said: "If the UK wants to compete with the rising Asian economies, we need to draw our workforce to our towns and cities. That means providing affordable family homes that do not alienate the local community."

Environmentalists were dismayed last week after reports that the PM told a special cabinet meeting focused on growth that major infrastructure projects should not be blocked by concerns about wildlife habitats. Green groups are anticipating a major row after this month's Budget.

And what of Hilton himself? As his Twitter parody, @SteveHiltonGuru, would say, there has not been enough #winning in the guru's wigwam.

Since the start of the year the Government has been drifting, with Hilton in a "face-off" with Andrew Cooper, No 10's polling guru, over what the priorities should be in 2012. "There has been no clear strategy, no priorities, no focus," said a source.

Hilton wanted to push public service reform, transparency and open data; Cooper to focus on health, education and crime – "what people care about". The environment did not figure. A strategy away-day at Chequers last month brought little clarity. There are even rumours that Hilton's deputy, Rohan Silva, may quit No 10.

Hilton became more and more inward-facing, focusing on policy and having little contact with other parts of the Downing Street operation. "He really felt that he had the best ideas and Dave had the worst ministers," says a friend of Cameron. Hilton became increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the Whitehall machine. A colleague said: "Even though some of his ideas are completely bonkers he will really push things through and make them happen. He will leave quite a big hole. Osborne will fill that gap." That's what worries green campaigners, who fear the silver birches will fall victim to the Treasury axeman.

Virtual spoof: Will the real Steve Hilton please tweet

Steve Hilton's blue-sky thinking has spawned one of Westminster's most popular spoof Twitter accounts. The outpourings of @SteveHiltonGuru to his 7,600 followers detail life inside the Wigwam of Trust, working for "warlord" David Cameron and the woes of long-suffering sidekick Rohan Silva. But which of these ideas are from Downing Street's real head of policy, and which are evidence of #winning from the online imposter?

1. Replace the Downing Street press office with a blog

2. The Big Society is the Government's only good policy

3. Use cloudbursting technology to end the rain and make Britain sunnier

4. Prayers are voters' top priority

5. Shut Jobcentres and let community leaders give out money

6. David Cameron should give his "I love the Union" speech in a Clan Cameron tartan kilt

7. Fly Virgin, not British Airways

8. Abu Qatada to be arrested unceremoniously and FedExed to Jordan

9. Maternity leave should be scrapped to help firms hire women

10. The Nudge Unit is named after the button on a fruit machine

(Answer: odd numbers are real, while even numbers are the work of @SteveHiltonGuru)

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull

Arsenal strengthened their grip on a top-four finish with a straightforward 3-0 win over Hull City.

Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
arts + ents Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen have taken part in a reading of Quentin Tarantino’s axed follow-up to Django Unchained.
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit