Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s enigmatic strategy director, has startled colleagues by proposing the abolition of maternity leave and all consumer rights legislation, as part of an initiative to inject life into Britain’s sluggish economy.
Mr Hilton’s crusade against employment legislation also saw him suggest that Mr Cameron just ignore European labour regulations on temporary workers, prompting an exasperated exchange with Jeremy Heywood, Downing Street’s permanent secretary.
“Steve asked why the PM had to obey the law,” said one Whitehall insider of a meeting in March to discuss the government’s growth strategy. “Jeremy had to explain that if David Cameron breaks the law he could be put in prison.”
Mr Hilton is highly admired by Mr Cameron for his original thinking, but the shaven-headed policy guru’s friends admit that three-quarters of his ideas fail to get off the drawing board – to the relief of colleagues.
Over the past few months, government officials have relayed to the Financial Times some of Mr Hilton’s quirkiest ideas, which failed to make the government’s red-tape review being announced on Thursday.
When Mr Hilton was looking at ways to cut the deficit, he suggested replacing hundreds of government press officers with a single person in each department who would convey all necessary information via a blog.
The 42-year-old, “Big Society” advocate’s solution to long-term unemployment was to abolish all jobcentres and to hand out money to community groups.
But perhaps his most ambitious unfulfilled plan was to scrap maternity rights. “Steve thinks that they are the biggest obstacle to women finding work, because companies know they are required by law to offer maternity leave,” said one Whitehall insider.
“He also wanted to suspend all consumer rights legislation for nine months to see what would happen. Some of his ideas are great but a lot of time is spent at an official level trying to deconstruct his maddest thoughts.”
Mr Hilton’s “horizon shift” thinking and “mood boards” used to enrage Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, whom Mr Cameron employed as his head of communications.
The departure of the former council house boy from Basildon has given Mr Hilton more space to expound his ideas.
Mr Hilton declined to comment, but his friends confirmed that he had indeed suggested all of the above.
However, they said that nothing compared with Mr Hilton’s ultimate blue-sky plan, formulated when the Tories were in opposition, to buy cloudbusting technology to provide Britain with more sunshine.