Is there a campaign to discredit Cameron's favourite moderniser?

A series of leaks suggests that somebody wants to undermine Steve Hilton – and Tory traditionalists resentful of his touchy-feely politics are in the frame.

Somebody has it in for Steve Hilton, the advertising wizard who packaged and marketed David Cameron. Somebody – almost certainly a colleague in the Conservative party – is intent on keeping him out of the team of advisers whom David Cameron is expected to take into Downing Street.

The evidence of a conspiracy is the stream of revelations calculated to embarrass him at a critical moment in the political cycle. The main ones could only have come from Conservatives who think Mr Hilton has too much influence for the party's good.

First there was the leak of five "Strategy Bulletins" he had circulated to Tory MPs between 16 October and 4 December, which turned up in The Times a week ago, and then found other outlets. They reveal Mr Hilton's boyish enthusiasm for up-to-the-minute political ideas. "What does he think we do?" a furious Tory shadow minister demanded in The Mail on Sunday. "Does he think we sit on our hands waiting to read emails from a 10-year-old who has just discovered Conservatism, on a £200,000 salary, in some farmhouse, with a wife who works for Google? It's crap. Steve Hilton has discovered Conservatism without any understanding of it. He has just bumped into it and said, 'Hey, guys, it's amazing!'."

Mr Hilton was the brains behind the poster campaign launched across the country on Monday, with a giant picture of Mr Cameron alongside the slogan: "We can't go on like this. I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS."

It was an invitation to vote for Mr Cameron and forget his party. That pronoun, "I" cut the shadow Chancellor George Osborne out of the picture, along with everyone else, and was sure to create wounded feelings.

To add to the doubts, the Daily Mirror, which tailed Mr Hilton for two days to obtain pictures of him jumping red lights on his bike, also came up with evidence that Mr Cameron's picture had been touched up to give him more hair and pouting lips. Questioned about this on the Today programme, Mr Cameron replied tetchily: "Look, I don't produce the picture or the poster" – not very encouraging for the person who did.

Then there was the sudden, late appearance of a story that is actually more than a year old. On 1 October 2008, at the end of the Conservative conference in Birmingham, Mr Hilton had an altercation with a member of staff at New Street station as he was hurrying for a train and could not lay hands on his ticket.

Allegedly, he called the official a "wanker". He was arrested, but later de-arrested and served with a £80 penalty notice for disorder. It is not the fine that will have hurt Mr Hilton, but the humiliation of having the story all over the media in the very week when electioneering began in earnest.

Mr Hilton is not a politician but an advertising man who was a rising star at Saatchi & Saatchi, and who voted Green in 2001. The most familiar image of him is as the prototype for Stewart Pearson, the fictional, bald, casually dressed Tory spin doctor in Armando Iannucci's The Thick of It, who regales staff with buzz phrases like, "knowledge is porridge".

Friends say Mr Hilton, the son of a Hungarian immigrant who changed his name from Hircksac, is nothing like his fictional counterpart, yet he cycles to work in shorts, never wears a suit, is almost bald, and uses phrases such as "harnessing the insights of behavioural economics and social psychology can help you achieve your policy goals in a more effective and light touch way".

He has more influence over David Cameron than most, if not all, MPs. His wife, Rachel Whetstone, was an adviser to Michael Howard before she became head of communications for Google. They recently bought a £1,050,000 house in Oxfordshire, seven miles from the Camerons'.

While some of the sniping at Hilton may be fired by jealousy, it has a political purpose, and the success or failure of his enemies will influence the party's future. A few months ago, there was an attack on his strategy in the right-wing magazine, Standpoint. It was summarised as: "Euroscepticism must be reserved for private consumption; socially progressive attitudes paraded at every opportunity; and a healthy respect for Blair's electoral success must be transformed into the dogma that Blairism worked."

He is the guru who persuaded David Cameron to cycle to work, be seen without a tie, to be photographed in the Arctic, and come over as a policy-light, eco-friendly Tony Blair lookalike. This makes him anathema to Conservatives who want less image and more policy, less modernity and more banging of the traditional Tory drums.

Recently, Mr Hilton was reported to be embroiled in a row with Cameron's head of policy, James O'Shaughnessy, over how much detail should be in the manifesto. This has opened up a battle over who will get jobs as special advisers in a Cameron government. This is a sensitive matter: the Tories have attacked Labour over their number of special advisers – about 70. The Tories will be open to a charge of hypocrisy unless they restrict the number of political advisers they employ at public expense.

Until recently, it was assumed that Mr Hilton, Mr O'Shaughnessy, and the party's head of communications, Andy Coulson, would be senior Downing Street advisers. Mr Hilton, it is reported, is out to block O'Shaughnessy's appointment.

David Cameron owes so much to Mr Hilton that it seems impossible that his future could be in question, but if a paid adviser attracts bad publicity, he becomes dispensable.

"Let's imagineer the narrative," the fictional Stewart Pearson has said. Just now, the narrative needs re-imagineering for Steve Hilton.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
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
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

Head of Sales, London

£70 - 95K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Milton Keynes

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Bristol

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Birmingham

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game