Putting private interests before national interest: the three Tory shadow cabinet members who faced down their leader

by Stephen Tall on December 23, 2008

Tory leader David Cameron has been forced to abandon plans to make all members of his shadow cabinet drop their lucrative outside retainers after three of his team vowed to quit if he did so. The FT broke the story this morning, noting:

Conservative strategists remain concerned about the potential political damage the “part-time” nature of the shadow cabinet could cause. The onset of recession will add weight to Labour jibes that Mr Cameron’s “two-jobs team” is not devoting its full attention to mitigating the impact of the downturn.

The party leader’s efforts to portray his party as in touch with ordinary voters will not be helped by the scale of shadow ministers’ earnings. Just under half – 15 out of 31 – of the shadow cabinet supplement their £60,000-plus salary as an MP, holding down a total of 23 directorships and 13 other jobs, according to analysis by the Financial Times.

The Tory press is none too impressed, neither by the Tory shadow cabinet members, nor by Mr Cameron’s weakness in giving into them:

It’s difficult not to conclude that David Cameron has scrapped his plans to impose a ban on Shadow Cabinet moonlighting because he did no want to suffer the resignation of senior colleagues, most notably William Hague. … I’m told that three members of the Shadow Cabinet would have quit rather than give up their extra-curricular earnings, led by Mr Hague, whose outside interests brought him £230,000 this year. There would also have been rude comments about “trustafarians” – the allegation that Dave and George, unlike their colleagues, don’t have to rely on their MPs’ pay to get by.

Speaking to frontbenchers today, I was struck by the degree of bitterness about the way Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne run things internally – “too centralised”, “we aren’t allowed to say anything”, “it’s all media driven”. And even instinctive Cameroons were dismayed by the leader’s refusal to bite the bullet and go ahead with the ban. He may fear a fight with his own side, but others say that is precisely what he should be doing to show that he and the Tories are hungry for power. “Unless being in the Shadow Cabinet is the most important thing to them, they shouldn’t be there,” is how one put it.

Ben Brogan, Daily Mail

This really does call into question their commitment to the cause. One begins to wonder which job they actually regard as their first priority. I suspect that most people who have followed this story are fairly confident that they know who the other two members who threatened to resign are. Cameron would be well advised to sack or demote one of them in the New Year reshuffle pour encourager les autres.

James Forsyth, Spectator Coffee House blog

… in order to be taken as a serious government-in-waiting, politics has to come first and I was somewhat concerned recently to hear the following story about a member of the shadow cabinet: he had apparently already told David Cameron that he didn’t want a higher profile post than that which he currently holds in advance of the general election, because he didn’t want to give up other interests on account of time commitments or potential conflicts of interest involved in a different post. Such an attitude at this juncture is unacceptable.

Jonathan Isaby, ConservativeHome.com

This is hardly the first time that Mr Cameron has proven his inability to lead his party – on 42 days and civil liberties, on Europe, and on embryology and abortion, and on the environment the Tory leader’s sometimes progressive pose has been constantly rejected by his MPs.

Say what you like about Tony Blair, but he knew how to tell the Labour party when it was in the wrong. And say what you like about the Labour party, but I can’t imagine so many of its MPs when in opposition happily putting their personal interests ahead of the national interest to hold the government to account.