Steve Hilton to take a year's sabbatical

David Cameron's director of strategy is to take a year of unpaid leave to take up academic position

Steve Hilton, David Cameron's closest adviser, is to leave Downing Street to go on sabbatical for a year.

A Number 10 spokesman announced today that Hilton, the Prime Minister's director of strategy, would take up an "unpaid academic sabbatical at Stanford University" but would return next summer. He said:

With his wife and young family, Steve will be moving to California. He will join Stanford as a visiting scholar at the university's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and will also be a visiting fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. He will spend his year on campus teaching, researching and writing, and will focus on innovation in government, public services and communities around the world.

Hilton is the man widely credited with "detoxifying" the Tory brand. Last month the Telegraph's Robert Colvile described Hilton's brand of blue sky thinking:

In his personal mythology, he's an engine of creative destruction, a T-shirted whirlwind who pads around Downing Street in his socks dictating a stream of outside-the-box ideas on anything from leaving the EU to stretching out the summer using cloud-bursting.

Not everyone is so impressed. Political Scrapbook have produced this gem of a tool for those wanting to generate their own Steve Hilton policies.

The spoof Twitter account @SteveHiltonGuru has been in action, tweeting ominously: "THERE'S 'UNPAID' AND UNPAID. DONT WORRY ABOUT ME". He gave this explanation: "I made it very clear. I get my own way or I'm gone. Some people don't listen. #governmentbyhissyfit".

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.