Has Steve Hilton exposed an omnishambles or his own naivety?

Jan 13, 2013

Not everyone is shocked to hear that No 10 is powerless in the face of Whitehall bureaucracy

DAVID CAMERON has been accused by a Labour MP of being “weak and out of touch” after his close confidante Steve Hilton (above) revealed that the prime minister is often left out of the loop as important policy changes are pushed through by “papershuffling” mandarins. But others think Hilton is being naïve.

Hilton, who was Cameron's chief policy advisor but is currently on sabbatical, told students at Stanford University in California that the PM and his cabinet often find themselves powerless in the face of Whitehall bureaucracy and that they often learn of new policies only when they open the papers or listen to the radio.

“Very often you’ll wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or the news or see something in the newspapers about something the government is doing,” he explained.

“And you think, well, hang on a second - it’s not just that we didn’t know it was happening, but we don’t even agree with it! The government can be doing things ... and we don’t agree with it? How can that be?”

Hilton discovered that about 40 per cent of daily government business related to implementing EU regulations, and 30 per cent related to “random things ... which were not anything to do with the coalition agreement”.

He said he found it “pretty horrific” that only a third of government time is spent actually delivering on what they as a government have promised.

Michael Dugher, Labour’s vice-chair and MP for Barnsley East, said Hilton, whose quotes were printed in The Sunday Times today, had “lifted the lid on the omnishambles” that is Cameron’s government.

“We have a weak and out of touch Prime Minister - and we've had that confirmed by one of David Cameron's closest advisers who worked at the very heart of Downing Street,” he said.

But The Week’s political insider The Mole said Hilton’s “horror” at No 10's inability to beat the bureaucracy “just shows his inexperience”.

The Mole said: “Even Lady Thatcher found the inertia of Whitehall frustrating. She blamed her own Cabinet ministers for stopping her being more radical. New Labour ministers also complained that they themselves were powerless to beat the Whitehall system.

“This is why many so former policy wonks like Steve Hilton go off to lobbying firms or join the lecture circuit. The surprise is that they still fool themselves into thinking they can change the world."

Several Sunday Times readers agreed. “On the surface, and in the few words expressed by Steve Hilton, this appears bizarre,” wrote one reader in response to the article. “However, when one imagines the situation in large corporations, especially the banks and notably the BBC, one can gain perspective.”

Another reader pointed out: “Anyone that had experience of large complex businesses would have known that,” while another asked: “Did he actually think Yes Minister was fiction?”

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