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‘She was Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga; all rolled into one’ – Steve Hilton on Margaret Thatcher

10 April 2013

Tomorrow’s Spectator includes a three-page symposium on Margaret Thatcher from a selection of her friends colleagues, admirers and sparring partners. Here’s the full version of what Steve Hilton – No.10’s strategy officer from 2010-2012 – has to say about our first female Prime Minister.

I was lucky enough to meet Mrs Thatcher (as I will always think of her) on a few occasions, and one in particular stood out. We talked about Communism, and my family’s experience in Hungary. I was feeling incensed at the time because of the way in which the ruling elite dabbled in capitalism for their own personal enrichment, but denied the opportunities of enterprise to most people. ‘Yes!” she exclaimed, ‘I hate that. Hate it. That’s how elites always behave! It’s the trahison des clercs!’

This seemed to provide validation for my own suspicion of, and instinctive hostility towards, elites and establishments of any kind. That’s why Mrs T was such an inspiration to me, and I suppose why I was so upset — much more than I had imagined I would be – to hear the news of her passing. I didn’t know Margaret Thatcher, so I can only describe what she represented to me.


I saw her as thrillingly anti-establishment; as much of a punk – and as brilliantly British — as Vivienne Westwood who once impersonated Margaret Thatcher on the cover of Tatler. In today’s techno-business jargon, Thatcher was the ultimate political disruptor – determined to shake things up, unleash competition, challenge and confront vested interests and the old ways of doing things. That’s why she was so transformative. Yes, change on that scale and in that way is not just exhilarating but can be uncomfortable too. Yes it brings casualties. But it is progress. To be against Margaret Thatcher, queen of disruption, is to be against progress — the favourite word of the left.

And it was her character that was the key. The virtues most admired and valued in today’s culture – innovation, energy, daring – defined her. She was Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga; all rolled into one, and a thousand times more consequential than any of them.

Oh, and here’s a final story – not mine, but one that I cherish and re-tell whenever I want to capture the audacity of her governing style (and I don’t want to hear from anyone that it’s not true!).

So hostile was she to the BBC (and more importantly to the fact that people were forced to pay for it), that she regularly convened meetings in Downing Street with scientists and engineers, urging them to invent and put on sale a TV set that couldn’t pick up BBC stations. It is the sheer magnificent unreasonableness of this that I so admire. Because if you want to change things, being reasonable doesn’t get you very far. In politics and government, it is unreasonableness that improves people’s lives.

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  • Greybeard Chieftain

    Unleash competition means dissever the cords that bind the titans of industry, the colossi of big business, from the fetters of the state, and allow them to dictate the composition of our economy and the policies of our government. The illusory truth that competition is being unleashed when in actuality, the decrease in state regulation allows the age of the monopolies to emerge, where the ‘supermarkets’ and the multinational firms decimate all domestic enterprise, obliterate the rights of their employees and gradually reallocate the wealth from reduced salaries, increased capital flows to their businesses, and their seizure of all land of any one nation in order to establish complete and total proprietary hegemony over one country.

  • cremaster

    Steve Hilton – the former (not even current) director of “strategy” for CamOron.

    Says it all, really. He should be forbidden to write about somebody he couldn’t possibly understand.

  • Guru Mckenzie

    Steve – no doubt you were inspired by her – but you are confusing inspiration with leadership – her caustic style was so divisive that it set back the cause of genuine progress and reform in this country – she was also a social reactionary and certainly not a libertarian – divisive, detested, and ultimately dumped (by her own side)

  • pearlsandoysters

    That’s absolutely fabulous “In politics and government, it is unreasonableness that improves people’s lives.” Grand, why not then unleash the vast reserves of unreasonableness that I am sure many people are in possession? I reckon that’d resemble anarchy of worst kind. Reasonableness since time immemorial was a hallmark of a good political judgement or prudence. Thatcher just played this “daring card” for better or for worse. To fully appreciate a politician’s legacy requires a good judgement unclouded by desire to present things either in overtly rosy or gloomy shades.

    • ladyrobinson

      It wouldn’t be as clever as true anarchy. But yeah, that sentence rocked, didn’t it?

      • pearlsandoysters

        The sentence indeed rocked if only by its sheer stupidity.

  • Tom Tom
  • CraigStrachan

    Where does Branson’s beard end up in that three-into-one roll up? Disturbing…

  • 15peter20

    “This seemed to provide validation for my own suspicion of, and instinctive hostility towards, elites and establishments of any kind.”

    Oh what rot. The Conservative Party? Stanford? Google? All definitely establishments.

    • iviv44

      not so sure about that. There are many sections of society (the arts, education, the BBC, local government) where the establishment is deeply left wing.

      • 15peter20

        Quite so. But Hilton says he is agin establishments ‘of any kind'; plainly that’s balls. He’s enmeshed with a number of them, and how couldn’t he be? He isn’t an anarchist.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Well his last two sentences give a certain troll hereabouts a hefty boot up the backside.

  • Abhay

    I am in agreement with David Lindsay here. This is the worst and the fakest tribute article that I have read – absolutely lacking any redeeming features!

    Why did this guy even bother? Here’s what he is doing and falling flat on his face because his ‘phony cool’ can be detected from a mile.

    1. He wants to sound very contemporary and ‘oh so edgy’ – hence Lady Gaga

    2. He has a childish desire to be different for different’s sake – hence Jobs and Branson
    3. He makes a cringeworthy attempt to portray Thatcher as some sort of cool, contemporary hyper-active person that the young can relate to – enter Jobs and Branson.

    This is a ridiculous piece of writing. Why did Spectator even let him?

    Hilton should lock himself up in a cave and write his strategies on the cave-walls to be discovered 1,000 years from now by people in search of buried history!

    And yes – the anecdote at the end! Probably, out of place as well. If she was so worked up about BBC why didn’t she do anything about it for over a decade when she was PM? It is hardly the anecdote for illustrating her tendencies and instincts.

    Thatcher’s place in history is reserved. This article won’t be referenced there.

    • David Lindsay

      You are very kind.

      And “If she was so worked up, then why didn’t she do anything about it for over a decade when she was PM?” can be asked about her in contexts almost too numerous to list.

      Or rather, in many cases, her fans are worked up about things and assume that she must have been. But when you look at her record, she was either indifferent, or, very commonly, on the other side.

    • Tom Tom

      Hilton did not like Thatcher. He voted Green and was LibDem. She represented the Conservative Party he wanted to dump.

  • The Sage

    The, perhaps, apocryphal story in regard to the BBC is excellent. If only it had worked and, by now, we could have been rid of this insidious organisation once and for all.

    • stickytape

      I wish.

  • In2minds

    “She was Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga; all rolled into one”

    No, no, no!

  • JabbaTheCat

    “‘She was Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga; all rolled into one’ – Steve Hilton on Margaret Thatcher”

    If this is an insight into the mind of Cameron’s recent primary guru, then we have plenty to worry about…

  • Daniel Maris

    Jeez, how many of these tributes do we have to have. She was PM, she’s dead. Meanwhile, we have a serious foreign policy disaster on our hands to add to the economic and migration ones. It seems that one of the main components in the Syrian rebel armed forces, supported so strongly by Cameron and Hague has declared allegiance to Al Queda. Another display of complete incompetence, warned about by most Coffee Housers here, but NOT most of the Speccie Commentators.

    • David Lindsay

      It could, just, be a lament for the lost youth of Fraser Nelson. But not of, say, James Forsyth, although I admit that he would not have had a very tough paper round to age him prematurely.

      Someone like Isabel Hardman is probably about my age (born in 1977), but neither of us, nor anyone else of our vintage, will either dance in the streets or demand a State Funeral when either John Major or Tony Blair dies. It really is very, very odd.

    • Wilhelm


    • The Sage

      Yes, Daniel, so true. I was one. I understand that Libya has been heading in a similar direction – especially Benghazi.

    • Hookeslaw

      There is no serious foreign policy disaster on our hands. We have foreign policy in progress.

      Jabhat al-Nusra, the organisation in question, was added to The US State Department’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations in December.
      Al Queda is all things to all men and as an organisation is increasingly less relevant.
      Obama is giving aid to other groups to help them relative to al Nusra.

    • Tom Tom

      Interesting that a Chinese FP specialist with knowledge of North Korea rates war as 80% probable

  • dmitri the impostor

    This piece epitomises the sort of blue-sky-thinking, flipchart-toting inanity that reached its apotheosis during the dot com boom but can surely trace its roots to the unbridled ‘enterprise culture’ of the 80s. Perhaps therefore an informative contribution, if not necessarily in the way Mr Hilton intended.

  • David Lindsay

    Seriously? Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga and Steve Hilton? Seriously?

    I might not exactly have been a fan. But she deserves better than this. Which magazine is this supposed to be, and why?

    • Fraser Nelson

      David, if you want dull, worthy and monochrome opinion where writers write the same old stuff using the set of cultural and historical reference points then don’t buy The Spectator.

      • David Lindsay

        I cannot imagine anything more dull than being stuck in a lift with Richard Branson, Lady Gaga and Steve Hilton. And isn’t the second of those names in rather poor taste on the part of the third, all things considered? I am not joking.

        • Hookeslaw

          No doubt you would prefer Trotsky.

          • David Lindsay

            It would have been a more interesting conversation, not that that would have been saying very much.

            The same goes for Thatcher. Unless I am very much mistaken, she never met Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga or Steve Hilton, although the last seems most likely. I doubt that she felt the lack.

          • Tom Tom

            Trotsky was probably an entertaining Menshevik as the Royal Navy conveyed him back to Russia as “our” agent to counter the German agent Lenin

        • Makroon

          You always manage to miss the point.
          Perhaps you should try reading what Hilton has said, rather than going off on your usual daft tangent.

        • Makroon

          How about being stuck in a lift with David Lindsay and Daniel Maris ?
          Didn’t Jean-Paul Sartre write a play about it ?

      • Peter Deville

        I think you missed the implication of it being crap.

      • ladyrobinson

        Fraser Nelson, that was a Very Cross reply to a fair point. Hardly cutting edge journalism to use those three as a cultural reference point. In fact Hilton was writing the same old stuff, but doing it badly while trying to appear down with the dudes.

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