Steve Hilton's next Big Idea: Swap Downing Street for time out in California


He is credited as the architect of the Big Society and once suggested the abolition of paid maternity leave. Now Steve Hilton, David Cameron's most influential adviser, has pulled off one last surprise: unexpectedly announcing his departure from Downing Street for an unpaid academic job in California.

Although he intends to return to No 10 in the summer of 2013 after a year's sabbatical at Stanford University, some Conservative insiders believe that he is unlikely to come back to his present role.

Mr Hilton is famous for his "blue skies thinking" and padding around Downing Street in socks and a T-shirt. He is one of Mr Cameron's closest friends but has found government frustrating. He has complained privately about the obstacles to putting his ideas into practice thrown up by the civil service, the Liberal Democrats and the European Union and was dismayed to see the health reforms watered down.

His departure is a surprise, because he has always urged Mr Cameron to make use of every minute of his scheduled five-year term to secure lasting change in case he loses power at the next election.

He has often clashed with the Chancellor George Osborne, who believes the Tories' priority should be to win an overall majority in 2015 rather than risk losing public support by pursuing unpopular reforms.

But No 10 sources denied that Mr Hilton is leaving because of strained personal relationships with rival advisers who also seek to influence the Prime Minister. "He has been at his happiest in the past three or four months," one said. Mr Hilton returned to Mr Cameron's side after a previous long break in California while the Tories were in opposition. His wife, Rachel Whetstone, is Google's communications chief and is returning to the US.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "With his wife and young family, Steve will be moving to California. He will spend his year on campus teaching, researching and writing, and will focus on innovation in government, public services and communities around the world."

Mr Hilton is the architect of Mr Cameron's flagship Big Society policy and his absence will fuel speculation that it is being downgraded. He will not be replaced and his duties will be shared between several staff. One option is for him to return to Conservative HQ to run the party's 2015 election campaign.

Some colleagues have found the impatient, irrepressible Mr Hilton difficult to work with – but even his enemies admit that Downing Street will have less of a creative spark without him being there.

Blue-sky thinking: Hilton's hits

Big Society

The cornerstone of Mr Hilton's philosophy and the ideological underpinning to Project Cameron. At least one relaunch and several personnel changes later, some senior ministers have gone cold.

Fly Branson

Mr Hilton recently advised Education Secretary Michael Gove to abandon the "fat cats" of British Airways when travelling abroad and use "upstart" Sir Richard Branson's Virgin.

Hug a husky

Mr Hilton persuaded Mr Cameron to go to the Arctic Circle for a photo shoot with a group of huskies to prove the Tories' "Vote Blue, go Green" credentials.

Get the economy moving by...

Abolishing Jobcentres and paid maternity leave along with suspending consumer-rights legislation for nine months. This was part of a blueprint to boost the output of UK PLCs.

Literal blue-sky thinking

While in opposition, Mr Hilton is said to have floated the idea of acquiring cloudbusting technology to turn Britain's grey skies to his favourite political hue.

Cahal Milmo

Suggested Topics
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam