David Cameron may be forced to shelve plans to curb the outside earnings of his Shadow Cabinet after a revolt by frontbenchers who do not want to give up their lucrative jobs outside politics, The Independent has learnt.
The Tory leader wants to reassure the public that his party's leading players would not face any conflicts of interest if they form the next government. Some of his aides worry that the Tories risk looking out of touch with ordinary voters as they feel the pinch of the economic downturn.
Fifteen of the 31 politicians who attend Shadow Cabinet meetings have paid outside jobs. They are in the spotlight after damaging publicity over the shadow Chancellor George Osborne's links with the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Although Mr Osborne denied seeking a £50,000 donation to Tory funds on the oligarch's yacht in Corfu this summer, the affair led to fears that the Tories looked like "a party of millionaires".
But the idea of limiting outside earnings has run into strong opposition from several prominent frontbenchers. They include the shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, who earned £110,000 from after-dinner speaking this year and up to £95,000 from acting as a parliamentary adviser; the shadow Trade Secretary Alan Duncan, who owns a firm of consultants on oil and gas projects; the universities spokes-man David Willetts, who earns up to £80,000 a year as a pensions adviser.
One Tory insider said: "It would send a very strong signal to the voters that we are squeaky clean. The best solution would be a ban on second jobs, so that we don't look like part-timer politicians."
But one shadow minister said yesterday: "This would be gesture politics. It wouldn't impress anyone. It is a good thing to have experience of business, especially in the current economic climate. Are we really saying that we don't want people in government who have been on a board and seen the pressures that companies are under?"
Another frontbencher described the idea as "socialist", pointing out that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, whose father co-founded the luxury wallpaper and fabrics company Osborne & Little, had wealthy backgrounds. "George has a trust fund – he doesn't need a second job," complained the frontbencher.
Other senior Tories say they could not afford to live on an MP's salary of £61,000 a year and might need a top-up from Tory funds if they were told to give up their outside jobs. Some might threaten to quit their party posts rather than lose their extra earnings. Some Tory insiders say the proposed curbs would be "unworkable" and "unfair"; that it would be impossible to clamp down on those frontbenchers who still enjoy an income such as dividends from previous work. These include the shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who launched the educational guide publisher Hotcourses, and Philip Hammond, the shadow Chief Treasury Secretary, who retains shares in his property development company Castlemead.
Mr Hague – the former party leader and a key ally of Mr Cameron – and the former shadow Home Secretary David Davis are said to have blocked the proposed crackdown on a previous occasion. However, Mr Cameron may return to the issue in the run-up to the election, widely expected in 2010. One aide conceded yesterday: "It is not something he will do in the near future," but added: "This is not something David has ruled out. He may want to do something nearer the election."
Moonlighting: What the Tory team make on the side
William Hague Shadow Foreign Secretary
Has earned up to £110,000 from after-dinner speaking this year; up to £95,000 from being parliamentary adviser to various groups and two directorships.
Oliver Letwin Tories' policy chief
Director of NM Rothschild Corporate Finance Ltd.
Alan Duncan Shadow Business Secretary
Owner of Harcourt Consultants, plus directorships
Francis Maude Shadow Cabinet Office minister
Member of a Barclays committee; seven directorships.
Andrew Mitchell Shadow International Development Secretary
Andrew Lansley Shadow Health Secretary
Director of digital marketing agency
Lord Strathclyde Tory leader in House of Lords
Michael Gove Shadow Education Secretary
Up to £65,000 for Times column.
Jeremy Hunt Shadow Culture Secretary
Adviser to Bristol Port Company.
David Willetts Shadow Universities Secretary
Up to £80,000 as pensions adviser.
Liam Fox Shadow Defence Secretary
Lectures for medical education firm
Eric Pickles Shadow Communities Secretary
Up to £15,000 as adviser to Royal British Legion Industries.