Hague's outside interests behind dive in popularity

William Hague has seen his popularity among Conservative Party activists take a plunge after suggestions that he was unwilling to give up his lucrative outside interests despite pleas from his leader for greater commitment among the Shadow Cabinet.

A poll of grassroots supporters by the Tory activists' website conservativehome.com found Mr Hague's support had fallen by 12 points. The shadow Foreign Secretary, previously a firm favourite among the party faithful, was said to be among those resisting plans by the Tory leader, David Cameron, to force his top team to give up any outside interests. Mr Cameron has since backed away from the move.

Mr Hague earned up to £300,000 last year from his activities outside Westminster, including after-dinner speaking, book writing and from paid positions as a parliamentary adviser to various groups.

The shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, has been warned that conflicts of interest could arise when the 14 Shadow Cabinet members with second jobs meet senior civil servants before the next election. Gordon Brown has authorised the meetings, which are to prepare for a possible change in government.

The Labour MP Jon Cruddas has written to Mr Maude to express "grave concern" that the Shadow Cabinet members could gain "insider knowledge" of sensitive government plans of interest to their other employers. Mr Cruddas pointed to the shadow Business Secretary, Alan Duncan, who could be in line to learn sensitive information despite holding a directorship of an energy firm and advising another on oil and gas.

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