- Uber hired Rachael Whetstone, 49, as PR chief for a reported £1million a year
- She was the wife of Cameron’s confidant and former policy guru Steve Hilton
- Couple would meet Dave and his wife Samantha for pizza, wine and pub lunches
- Number of factors are said to be at play in Whetstone’s decision to quit yesterday
When Uber hired Rachel Whetstone, less than two years ago, it wasn’t just getting a new PR chief.
Instead, for a sum rumoured to exceed £1 million a year, the Silicon Valley firm was obtaining the services of a woman with excellent political connections.
For Whetstone was the wife of Cameron’s confidant and former policy guru Steve Hilton, as well as godmother of his late son Ivan.
She’d also been a key member of his inner circle since the early Nineties.
Now 49, the charismatic political fixer first met the future PM while they worked together (alongside a young George Osborne) at Conservative HQ.
Later, she became political secretary to Michael Howard, the then Tory leader, regarded as Cameron’s early mentor.
By the time the man she calls ‘Dave’ became PM, their families were virtually joined at the hip.
Indeed, Whetstone and Hilton often spent weekends at their £1.2 million Oxfordshire farmhouse, seven miles from the PM’s constituency home, where they’d meet Dave and his wife Samantha and go for pub lunches or load their two kids into a fashionably-battered Volvo, and pop round to have pizza and red wine with their powerful chums.
The appearance given by this cosy relationship may have raised concerns considering the extraordinary — and unprecedented — level of access enjoyed by Whetstone’s then employer, Google.
Senior executives of the trendy U.S. search engine met with Tory ministers on average once a month during Cameron’s first four years as PM, according to Freedom of Information disclosures. This included three encounters with Cameron himself and four with Osborne.
So astonishing was Google’s hold on the PM’s affections that senior Tory peer Lord Younger (the minister in charge of intellectual property) once complained that the company’s ‘power’ was such that ‘they have access to higher levels than me in No 10’.
There was perhaps further cause for raised eyebrows when, despite public concern over Google’s business practices, Cameron and Osborne did next to nothing while in power to regulate the firm, to curb its vigorous tax-dodging, or to suggest laws that might leave it vulnerable to copyright lawsuits.
Fast forward to May 2015, and Uber — which runs a smartphone app that allows users to hail a minicab at the touch of a button — found itself in need of a helping hand.
The fast-growing Californian company was facing a number of moves to curb its growing domination of the British taxi market.
It stood accused, among other things, of driving traditional cabbies out of business, and clogging London’s streets with extra cars, polluting the air and making the city centre more congested than at any time in its modern history.
Rape or assault claims were being made against its drivers at a rate of one every 11 days, while it also appeared to be flouting a number of rules governing the heavily-regulated taxi industry.