Leading article: Public before private interests

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The Independent Online

The decision by shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague to defend the hundreds of thousands of pounds he earns from directorships, speeches and consultancies is making him unpopular in the party, according to the findings of a poll of Conservative supporters.

Mr Hague argues that parliamentarians should have experienced life outside the Westminster bubble. He says politicians who have little or no first-hand knowledge of the businesses they seek to regulate and the people they seek to govern are unlikely to act effectively on their behalf. This is correct; we do not want a class of leaders that knows nothing except politics – although to follow this argument to its logical conclusion, Mr Hague should be working in a hospital or school rather than raking in a small fortune through public speaking and private business.

But it is a question of degree. Her Majesty's Official Opposition has a duty to hold the Government to account, and when that government administers 42 per cent of our gross domestic product, this duty is no small thing. David Cameron recognises the scale of the job and has, in private, repeatedly urged his Shadow Cabinet colleagues to relinquish their remunerated outside interests.

The issue has not escaped the wily Labour MP Jon Cruddas, who yesterday wrote to Mr Cameron, expressing concern that when members of the Shadow Cabinet meet civil servants to assist preparation for a future Tory government, they may be acting for the companies they represent. He has a point. To take one example, the register of members' interests reveals that the Tory business spokesman Alan Duncan, in addition to running an oil industry consultancy and working as a director of a Californian tech firm, has also become the non-executive director of the oil exploration company Arawak Energy Ltd. So when he meets civil servants from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the coming months, whom will he represent?

To remove any doubt, Mr Duncan and his colleagues should trim the numerous consultancies and directorships from their portfolio of concerns and put the public first.