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Political Review: Summit Wrong

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I give you, courtesy of Conservative Home, a website offering therapy for frustrated Tories, this unattractive vignette: "Mr Hilton was also accused of being unprofessional: turning up at the meeting in shorts and a T-shirt, clutching a plastic bag full of oranges. As the meeting went on, Mr Hilton is said to have started 'inexpertly' peeling an orange, getting juice all over the crotch of his brushed cotton shorts.  That last detail was a low blow, but you get the picture.  Every radical will sympathise with Mr Hilton.  There are parts of the government machine that simply don't work".

Should you need guidance with unpicking this unsavoury tale, I should explain that the Mr Hilton referred to is the prime minister's friend and guru Steve Hilton who, we have been reliably informed all week, is in the process of getting on a plane to California. Why you might ask? Well it is not so that he can pick up some more oranges to bring back to his meetings in London where he can carry on peeling them inexpertly. Rather Mr Hilton is embarking upon a form of exile. He has been forced out to the west coast - the west coast of the USA that is; Mr Hilton is not, I think, the sort of man to find solace in Aberystwyth - by the civil service who have been slow to take to his ideas though quick to mock his gaucherie with citrus fruit. Mr Hilton is peeved by this, as well as, according to some reports, feeling that the prime minister has become too enthralled himself by these mandarin-judging mandarins.

As messy with his packing as appears to be his snacking, Mr Hilton has managed to leave behind a generous portion of his oeuvre for us to chew upon. This has leaked its way into the public domain as effortlessly as the nose of his plane dips towards the setting sun. He is said, for example, to have proposed that a further £25 billion be cut from welfare spending, an idea which has made even Iain Duncan Smith, the man in charge of these things, reach for a glass of water.

On Friday meanwhile, the prime minister advanced the extraordinary thesis that the state had not become as intimately involved in the part of raising children as it might, and must therefore up its game through the important mechanism of a hundred quid's worth of taxpayer-funded parenting classes. It is ridiculous, said Mr Cameron, that we are taught how to drive a car but not to raise a child, one of those points that is so simultaneously obvious and otiose that no one has ever bothered to think of it before. Mr Cameron might be forgiven for this, for he himself may have been driving under the influence of his erstwhile svengali at the time. He should be pulled over immediately and made to blow into a copy of the Conservative manifesto. If it falls apart, we shall know that this was indeed the hand of Hilton hard at work.

It is for his battles with the civil service that Mr Hilton will be most remembered: an organisation that, by some accounts, he would like to cut in size by 90%. It may have been during one of his many orange-peeling meetings that he came to the conclusion that "there are parts of the government machine that simply do not work". What parts exactly isn't entirely clear from the reports. Are we talking here about the contents of Mr Hilton's brushed-cotton shorts, or is it felt that the malaise is more widely-spread? That's the trouble with these modern gurus. They prick your interest with their observations and then bog off to California before they deliver the denouement.

Whether Mr Cameron's state-run nappy changing agency will be part of the 90% of the civil service that doesn't work, or part of the 10% that does, only time will tell, or perhaps smell, but the prime minister in any case had other things to deal with. All week the eurozone had been proving, if further proof were needed, that it was part of the 90%. Mr Cameron had to go to Washington where the leaders of the other what are still called world's richest countries were gathering to try to sort the bugger out.

These summits follow a familiar pattern. They begin with a bold declaration that the participants are intent upon solving whatever problem lies before them, and end with a further declaration that they are as intent as ever upon solving whatever problem lies before them. The bit in-between is largely dinner. Most of us when, say, the gasman arrives saying he is going to fix the boiler and then leaves, saying that he is going to fix the boiler, can spot the flaw. However, when it is our leaders doing the arriving and leaving it is widely supposed that our criticial faculties are suspended for the duration. Oddly enough, this often turns out to be true.

In Washington President Obama teamed up with his new friend President Hollande of France to beat up Chancellor Merkel of Germany. It is sad for the cheap-jack gag-merchants of the bien pensantmedia that the second President Bush is no longer in charge. They would have had a lot of fun telling us how he thought he was ganging up with the President of Holland to do over France. As it is, it was like 1944 all over again, except that on this occasion Britain's presence appeared to be superfluous to requirements.

Mr Cameron, who is in favour of austerity in this country but not, it seems, when it comes to Germany, may be regarded as an unreliable ally for the two presidents who are in general universally well-disposed towards the idea of spending other people's money. Nevertheless, if the New York Times is to be believed, Mr Cameron did get some important time with the President (Obama that is, not Hollande) on the treadmill, from which I think we are meant to assume they were exercising together, rather than putting in a shift generating electricity for the Greeks. No doubt they were discussing the President's re-election prospects. These are dependent on the health of the US economy which, in turn, is dependent in part upon the state of the European economy. Chancellor Merkel should understand this: rescuing the Eurozone is not about jobs and growth, but about getting President Obama re-elected, an altogether higher cause.