Sarah Sands: We need star-gazers like Hilton to think the unthinkable

 

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It is charming to discover that while George Osborne is peering down at the point noughts of growth, David Cameron's policy adviser Steve Hilton has his head in the clouds. Why the fuss that Hilton's blue-sky thinking includes the abolition of maternity and consumer rights and introduction of everlasting sunshine? If he calls for cautious reform and more team games, the mad monk is out of a job.

Also, he has to up the stakes to compete with Boris Johnson, whose bathtime wheezes are a permanent headache for the Government but an easy sell to the rest of us. If you stick the name Boris before the concept it becomes a form of merchandising. Boris bikes, Boris airport, Boris tax cuts.

It has been explained to me that the difference between Cameron and Johnson is that Boris was an Eton Scholar, which means he is destined always to be the clever maverick in opposition to Establishment complacency. I would respectfully suggest that this metaphor for the outsider is not quite Camus. But you can't look at Cameron's contented face without wanting to put a rocket up his arse.

Hilton must speak truth to power and must therefore live by his own rules. These include no office hours or dress – even the creatives banned from wearing ties at Soho House might find his ensemble of T-shirt, shorts and no shoes on the casual side. I think these habits may offend the conventional hierarchy more than his ideas. Everyone mistrusts a figure with no title and unlimited access to the boss. Moreover, his independence is a rebuke to everyone else's transparent ambition.

Yet Hilton and his Labour counterpart, Maurice Glasman, are necessary. Both party leaders are pragmatists rather than visionaries, and if you don't come with a plan, you need at least to listen to exciting, counterintuitive ideas. As Albert Einstein (also scruffy and disdainful of office hours) said: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."

While there are psychopathic gunmen listening, it is dangerous to appropriate ideas out of context, but isn't Hilton correct to question the shibboleths of the "rights" industries?

The purpose of outsiders is that they can spot crowd fallacies. There is a fascinating illustration of this in Michael Lewis's book The Big Short, about the men who saw the idiocy of sub-prime mortgages and bet against Wall Street. Steve Eisman and Michael Burry were not team players. Eisman would unsettle everyone at Wall Street meetings by saying loudly: "Could you explain that again in English?"

Burry, a hedge funder, with a glass eye and Asperger's syndrome, earlier gave up the medical profession after falling asleep standing up during complicated surgery. He said: "No matter what group I'm in or where I am, I've always felt like I'm outside the group and I've always been analysing the group."

The billionaire investor George Soros (like Hilton, of Hungarian origin) made a fortune from disbelieving government consensus on the stability of currencies.

The beauty of Hilton is that, unlike Osborne, his ideas are cloud- rather than politics-driven. They exist for their own sake. It saves him from dirty calculations, such as employing the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson for opportunistic ends, but it does not mean that Hilton is danger-free. The sub-prime crisis was caused by a mathematically ingenious concept of slicing up debt. The unhappy intervention in Iraq was blamed by liberals on George Bush's ignorance, but the domino doctrine came from the high-minded wiry Polish-Jewish intellectual Paul Wolfowitz.

Margaret Thatcher loved intellectuals, even if they were bad at politics. The late Keith Joseph, the original mad monk, was shocked by the huffy public responses to his ideas such as privatisation or tuition fees. Every prime minister needs a free thinker and a corresponding dream-crusher, another word for a civil servant. In the present mood of recrimination we are all in the gutter, but at least Steve Hilton is looking at the stars.

Mensch's honesty on drugs is refreshing

It strikes me that Louise Mensch is both brave and slightly mad, a smarter version of Sally Bercow. Her j'accuse performance on the select committee was theatrical, but she is no Helena Kennedy.

The Corby MP has now been forced to apologise to Piers Morgan for a sloppy reading of his book. But she has made up ground with her breezy response to a journalist's allegation that, while working at EMI in the 1990s, she took drugs with Nigel Kennedy. The mistake in the allegation was to suggest that journalists might be shocked and distressed by a display of drunkenness. "Sounds highly probable," Mensch retorted by email.

We are trying to find a new equilibrium between journalists and public figures. Mensch has hit upon a pleasing solution – no denials, no superinjunctions, just a confirming shrug. I wonder if David Cameron might consider this, next time he is asked about his exuberant youth.

The North Sea is in my kitchen

Sensitive to the economic north/south divide and married to a Yorkshireman, I beamed at the Geordies going door-to-door round west London with their morning haul of fish. "Up at 2am were you?" I repeated, checking that my teenage son had heard. "Marvellous, yes, halibut, terrific, thank you."

Next thing, my Strongbow hero was in the kitchen dumping half the North Sea into my kitchen. "Really, I have nowhere to put it," I murmured anxiously. But he explained in masterful tones that I owed him £300 and he could not specify the volume of fish. If anyone can lend me some loaves, I can perform a few miracles.

Mike and Zara, a perfect match

I read the warning signs for marital discord in the light of yesterday's royal nuptials, but am satisfied that Mike and Zara are in the clear. I cannot imagine the bride abandoning her groom for Newsnight.

There are no published photographs of Tindall engrossed in a novel, at his wife's expense. They should always sleep heartily, owing to the magical combination of sport and alcohol. Neither will answer placidly that nothing is wrong, so long as each has the strength to clock the other. I wish them a long and happy marriage.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'

Janet Street-Porter is away



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