Opinion: Lost a guru? Try democracy instead

Reports suggest that Steve Hilton’s departure from Downing Street will leave the Conservatives desperately short of ideas. This seems astonishing: Liberal Democrats surely don’t need to turn to expensive advisers for creative ideas, new initiatives and the odd quirky example of tangerine sky thinking! Party members present and debate ideas at conference, and the party does not usually suffer from a shortage of novel suggestions. But these debates also produce serious policies, something which was perhaps beneath Steve Hilton’s pay grade.

 These differences in how the two coalition parties handle policy making have a direct impact on the workings of government. Steve Hilton’s ideas could prove a headache for Liberal Democrats, and many Conservative MPs are exasperated when a Liberal Democrat conference throws a spanner in the works of coalition policy. But what is more reasonable: giving such great influence to one adviser, or consulting a large group of activists with a collective expertise and experience which one man could never match?

 Steve Hilton was known for rumoured temper tantrums in Number 10; but if Nick Clegg’s ‘advisers’ are unhappy, the disagreement will be played out in public. In fact, it’s a complicated relationship: some suggest that the membership is not producing enough appropriate policies, while some members complain that many suggestions are never debated. There is certainly scope for improving communication and for using the expertise of members more systematically. But in the meantime, the debates continue, and the party membership is not about to decamp to California just because the coalition isn’t much fun most of the time.

 So, where the Liberal Democrats draw on the ideas of an unruly, creative crowd of party members, the Tories relied on one man – one man who now seems irreplaceable. It looks like a rather serious weakness to me. Perhaps the Conservative Party should look into holding proper conferences instead of five-day rallies: as Steve Hilton himself could perhaps tell them, policy making by crowd sourcing has to be trendier than simply employing an unconventional adviser.

* Maria Pretzler is a Lecturer in Greek History at Swansea University. She blogs at Working Memories , where ancient Greekery and Libdemmery can happily coexist.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Thoroughly agree. The general activity of the membership more than compensates for the lack of a central ‘guru’.

  • To say that the Tories rely on one man, however influential, for policy is plain silly. There are lots of intelligent thinkers in all parties, some elected, some staff, some volunteers.

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