Simon Kelner: When a little nudge is better than an outright demand

Kelner's View

Share

I have never met Steve Hilton, the man of ideas behind David Cameron. In my mind's eye, however, I can't separate him from Stewart Pearson, the character from the television programme The Thick of It who is responsible for making his party "connect" with the public.

He wears his cycling outfit for meetings, he tells politicians not to wear ties, and spends much of his time with flow charts. Armando Iannucci, who created Pearson, clearly had Cameron's man in mind: the cycling, the casual wear, the eco-friendly spin are all part of the Hilton legend. He is renowned for not wearing shoes in the office, and, naturally, for thinking outside the box. But clearly there is much more to Hilton than management jargon, and anyone whose ideas challenge the political orthodoxies demands some attention.

He's regarded as the architect of the Big Society, and some of his other proposals – such as the abolition of maternity leave – are bold iterations of thinking the unthinkable. He's a student of American political philosophies, and is known to be a advocate of Nudge Theory, by which government can effect change in people's behaviour and attitudes by suggestion rather than doctrine.

It derives from a book published in the States in 2008 called Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, a long-winded title for what is essentially a simple concept: that the state will enjoy success by leading, or nudging, its citizens towards change.

Hilton set up a "nudge unit" in Downing Street to put this theory into action. Instead of getting a tax demand, people would receive a letter telling them that 9 out of 10 local residents had already paid up. The message: you'll let yourself, your postcode, and your country down by avoiding your responsibilities. Apparently, there was a 15 per cent rise in people paying their tax among those who received these missives.

There is some discussion that this strategy could be applied in other areas, such as promoting healthy eating, or encouraging people to stop smoking, or curbing excessive drinking. This led me to wonder how this is to be accomplished. I imagine going to the bar, ordering a large gin and tonic, and then suddenly my mobile phone buzzes. I read the text: "A large one? Are you sure? After all, that's two units. Two-thirds of your daily allowance! Why not have a tomato juice? Go on, you know it makes it sense."

Or maybe you'd find a letter on your doormat. "That portion of chips you had last night. Really? You know how bad they are for you. Next time why not go for the mixed salad? And maybe have the fresh fruit rather than the banoffee pie. Just a thought." And instead of the "Smoking Kills" message on fag packets, something that says "it's not very cool to smoke any more. None of your friends does it." You know what: I think Hilton may be on to something.

 

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss