Steve Hilton joins the Olympian battle for Lords reform
David Cameron's former 'blue skies thinker' brands the political system a 'donocracy'.
As Britain was gripped with Olympics fever four years ago, one of the most competitive of government rows was racing away – reaching the finishing post days after the last gold medal was awarded.
Nick Clegg and David Cameron had been wrestling each other for months over House of Lords reform, with the Liberal Democrat leader very publicly pulling the plug on his pet project in August 2012 after the prime minister admitted he would not be able to guarantee the support of his backbenches for the far-reaching reform.
Just weeks before the announcement, as pressure ramped up in the corridors of Whitehall, one senior Conservative adviser cut his losses, quit and moved to America after growing disheartened at the lack of support for his radical thinking.
But now Steve Hilton is back and, on the eve of the Rio Olympics, today launches a new charge for wholesale reform of politics, including a shakeup of party funding rules and radical upheaval of the Lords.
In an article in the Times, Hilton – David Cameron's former director of strategy – brands British politics as a ‘donocracy’, where “money literally buys the outcomes you want from the political system”. He wrote:
“The decision to leave the EU was a victory for people power. But that’s just the start: until we have a fully elected legislature, we cannot call ourselves a true democracy. The other, even more serious type of very British corruption revealed by the resignation honours list is the fact that these honours – and even places in our legislature – can be purchased with political donations … it is simply undeniable that big donations buy influence … when money buys influence, trust in politics is eroded.”
Hilton went further on Radio 4’s Today this morning, saying there was an opportunity for Theresa May to “go to the heart of the problem which is that our democracy simply isn’t democratic enough”. He added:
“It’s disappointing to me that, despite many years of talk from people on both the left and the right of politics we are still stuck with this system which is antiquated and undemocratic … We need to try to get beyond the more tabloid version of this argument and really understand what it says about our democracy – you’ve got people appointed to the legislature without going through the proper processes of democratic accountability that are taken for granted in most countries in the world and you have people being influenced by making political donations. I don’t blame the donors for that, I blame the system for that and that’s why we need to change the system.”
But while Hilton will be a welcome recruit to those calling for political reform, there is little indication that May’s government will be looking to enact either Lords reform or a shake-up of party funding.
Any moves to reform the latter would need to co-operation of major parties in Westminster. Last time that was attempted, in 2013, a year of cross-party talks collapsed after both Labour and the Conservatives opted to stick with the status quo.
Picture by: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/Press Association Images