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Wednesday, May 16, 2012 

Oh, they hate things. Just the wrong things.

From time to time, there comes along an article that is so lacking in apparent awareness that it takes the breath away. When that same article is written with seeming direct input from the bowels of Downing Street, it makes you realise that two years in, this government is already away with the fairies.

Steve Hilton then is gone. I personally thought he had already gone, and that the omnishambles of the last couple of months was partially down to his no longer being at the rudder, but apparently not. As when all those other past great minds have left the political stage, his passing has been marked with platitudes from many about how he brilliant he was when he was in fact about as useful as, to quote The Thick of It, a marzipan dildo. Hilton's big idea was the Big Society, a concept that may well have worked if we weren't going through the worst recession since the Black Death. As we are, and as not a single person ever managed to give a proper definition of what it was other than people running public services, it went down like a certain X Factor judge.

Ben Brogan's theory for why the government is doing so badly, presumably straight from the gob of Steve Hilton, is wait for it, that the Tories don't hate the opposition enough. Gordon Brown is as well known, hated the Tories and everything they stood for. He and his minions dedicated themselves to screwing over the opposition in every way that they could, and so for that matter did the likes of Alastair Campbell. The thing about the Conservatives is really, honestly, they're just too nice, at least personally to other people. The factions within the party can fight like two tomcats in a sack as been documented over the years, but they just don't want to put the boot properly in to Labour. Why else, apart from the fact they're just such lovely people? Well, for many of them life in opposition was fairly sweet. They could do their second jobs, earning more for a few days' work a month than the average person makes in a year, and they weren't pilloried quite as much as they are now.

The problem with this thesis is that for the most part it's balderdash. Yes, Gordon Brown hated David Cameron, but then anyone who doesn't actively dislike Cameron hasn't been paying enough attention. It also doesn't take into account how hidden below the surface Cameron has a filthy temper, something that only becomes apparent when he's truly rattled, as when he was ordered back to the Commons to give his statement on Jeremy Hunt. It might well be true that there are certain ministers, even the prime minister, who are too comfortable in their positions and that's affecting their performance but that doesn't even begin to explain why the government has so spectacularly shafted itself.

Part of the real reason is that it's tried to be just too damn clever, something that Steve Hilton more than contributed to. As Brogan relates, Hilton wanted George Osborne to go even further in the Budget: not just drop the top rate of income tax to 45p, but to 40p and slash corporation tax to 15%. They imagined that this would thoroughly delight the business world, and also in the longer term drive the recovery: come to Britain, earn millions and pay the same rate of tax as the middle class! According to Brogan, the 50p rate was one of Brown's unexploded bombs, when it really wasn't. The polls were and are clear: the public aren't attached to the 50p rate in the long term, yet they think at the moment when they're making sacrifices it should stay. You can see the reasoning behind changing it, but it was politically stupid in the extreme. Everything has then followed on from that, with all the other problems in the budget, the fuel strike panic, the Abu Qatada idiocy and the continuing Leveson clusterfuck. Add in the recession, created almost entirely through the government's austerity fetish even if most of the cuts are still to come, and these are the real reasons why Cameron's ratings are now below that of Brown in 2010.

The one other thing Brogan's piece tells us is that Hilton liked to shout at the civil servants. In the dying days of the Brown government when Andrew Rawnsley's book was published chronicling Gordon's rages, including turfing a Downing Street secretary out of her chair because she wasn't typing fast enough, this was cited as being the ultimate evidence of his unsuitability for the job. Hilton's attitude by contrast is shown as being understandable, even after being repeatedly reprimanded by Cameron's chief of staff, as the civil servants are clearly standing in the way of his reforms and deserve it. If that wasn't enough, then Hilton's proposal for an additional £25bn cut in welfare spending, on top of the £18bn already slashed ought to tell you who it is he and the Conservative section of the government really hate: the most vulnerable in society, who have to get it into their thick skulls that the days of New Labour's "socialism" are over. As for him, he's off to teach at Ayn Rand university in America. He'll be deeply missed.

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