The woman at the heart of the Tories – and Google

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Indy Politics

Plans by the Conservative Party to offer private companies the chance to handle medical records were bound to run into opposition from those fearing that patients' most private details could be put at risk. But the party's links to the internet giant, Google, which is set to benefit from the plans, has added to the controversy over the project.

Accusations that the firm has an influential advocate inside Conservative Party headquarters (CCHQ) have emerged because one of David Cameron's most trusted advisers, his chief strategist, Steve Hilton, is married to Rachel Whetstone, Google's vice president of public policy and communications.

The importance of Mr Hilton to Mr Cameron's operation can not be over-emphasised. While communications chief, Andy Coulson, deals with the day-to-day traumas of political life, it is Mr Hilton who Mr Cameron consults over longer-term policy plans. And Mr Hilton is always close to the Tory leader, occupying an office next to that of Mr Cameron inside CCHQ.

The Tories were so keen to hold on to Mr Hilton that he was allowed to work from the US, after his wife began working for Google in 2005. He has only recently returned, just in time to help deal with the controversy over proposals to hand medical records to firms such as Google and Microsoft.

With Mr Cameron declaring his intention to create a "post-bureaucratic age" in British politics, with the internet central to his plans, it is not hard to see why some believe Google has already influenced Tory policy. In a speech last month, Mr Cameron said he aimed to build "a new era of Google government".

However, the headache created for the party over Mr Coulson's involvement in the News of the World phone-tapping row recently has made the Tory high command very sensitive to the damage such associations can inflict. Do not expect Mr Cameron to mention Google unprompted again soon.

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