The prodigal son returns to some hard questions about the risks involved in giving away powerby Jonathan Derbyshire / May 22, 2015 / Leave a comment
While David Cameron was making his speech on immigration at the Home Office yesterday (he blamed the Liberal Democrats for blocking the coalition government’s attempts to reduce the level of net migration to the UK), his former senior adviser Steve Hilton was in Prospect‘s offices in London for a roundtable discussion with a group of journalists and policy professionals about his new book, More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First.
After he left Downing Street in May 2012, complaining about the obstacles that the Whitehall machine had put in the way of his attempts to transform how the government was run, Hilton moved with his family to California. He’s still there—he’s now CEO of a Silicon Valley start-up and a visiting professor at Stanford—and his book is saturated in the kind of optimism (or boosterism, depending on one’s taste) often associated with the “Golden State.” (Scott and Jason Bade, Hilton’s two co-authors—who, he said, provided the “facts to buttress [his] prejudices”—are themselves both twenty-something scions of Silicon Valley.) Hilton pays tribute to the distinctive atmosphere of his new home in the introduction to More Human, particularly to the “entrepreneurial community at Stanford University” that has, he says, shaped his thinking about what he still calls (and the Prime Minister used to call) the “post-bureaucratic age.”
More Human is a manifesto for the post-bureaucratic age, then; a blueprint for new kinds of institutions (and not just government ones, but in education and business, too) designed on a human scale. But, Hilton insisted yesterday, “this is not a ‘small is beautiful’ argument.” He’s less interested in the size of institutions, he said, than in dislodging “concentrations” of political and economic power wherever they occur.
Inevitably, much of the blanket media coverage of Hilton’s book has concentrated on the extent to which his ideas have survived both contact with the upper echelons of the Civil Service while he was in government and then his departure in 2012. Does Hiltonism endure even though its originator no longer has an office in Number 10? One could be forgiven for being sceptical—and not just because the Tories have just run a successful election campaign that was decidedly un-Californian in tone. The knighthood to be conferred on Eric Pickles, the former Secretary…