Between David Cameron's election as leader and his hoped-for entry into 10 Downing Street, Steve Hilton will have cost the Conservative party at least a million pounds. Despite vast debts, the Tories are reported to be paying their chief strategist an unprecedented £270,000-a- year salary. Yet, apart from having helped to make Cameron leader, Hilton has no other notable political successes to his name. In the disastrous 1997 and 2005 general election campaigns, Michael Portillo's two failed leadership bids, and Steve Norris's two doomed efforts to become London mayor, Hilton has been there, not always in charge, but always on the losing side. So why does Cameron have such faith in him?
Hilton is what Cameron is always (wrongly) accused of being, a brilliant PR man. The son of Hungarian parents who escaped to the West, he won a scholarship to Christ's Hospital, then a place at Oxford. In the post-Thatcher era, Hilton became an acolyte - first of Chris Patten, then of Maurice Saatchi. If Hilton has political opinions, they are theirs. He has a self-consciously languid dinner-party manner on the Patten model, allied to strenuously up-to-date technocracy in the Saatchi manner. No policy prescriptions result from this combination, other than a resentment of party activists and a trite enthusiasm for novelty and success. Hilton concluded that these virtues were to be found wherever the loathed Tory grassroots were not.
Like Portillo, Hilton adopted the Blairites' conceit of styling themselves as modernisers. For the Tories, this meant above all three things: Euroscepticism must be reserved for private consumption; socially progressive attitudes must be paraded at every opportunity; and a healthy respect for Blair's electoral success must be transformed into the dogma that Blairism had actually worked in government.