Election '97: Sleaze row MP is adopted in secret

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The Independent Online
Michael Brown, one of the MPs at the centre of the cash for questions affair, was adopted at a hastily convened secret constituency meeting on Monday night.

The meeting had been brought forward from Friday in order to avoid any publicity for the MP, who has not made any public appearance since the controversy erupted again, just before Easter. Mr Brown has managed to escape publicity by lying low and by leaving his campaign headquarters empty for the past two weeks.

In evidence to the inquiry chaired by Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Mr Brown admitted that he had accepted pounds 6,000 to lobby on behalf of a tobacco company in 1988 and 1989 to allow an oral tobacco product, Skoal Bandits, to be allowed into Britain, without entering this in the Register of Members' Interests. He also admitted not telling civil servants and ministers whom he was lobbying about his backing from the firm, United States Tobacco.

At the constituency meeting, Mr Brown won over doubters by apologising for having accepted the money and for not having declared it to the Inland Revenue until the payments became public knowledge in October 1996. He explained that, at the time, MPs were less well paid than they are now and that they were encouraged to engage in outside interests.

One of the opponents of Mr Brown on the local Conservative Association executive, Melanie Dickerson, said: "There was no point in trying to find an alternative candidate at this late stage. It would have been a futile gesture."

While Mr Brown has proved elusive over the past two weeks and his campaign headquarters has been deserted, he has already caused controversy by criticising his Labour opponent in an interview in the local paper, the Grimsby Evening Telegraph.

Replying to Labour's Shona McIsaac, a Wandsworth councillor, who had told him to come out of hiding, he said he had been working on constituency mattersand "unlike sleazebag journalists and sleazebag candidates, I have responsibilities to the people who put me here right up until the dissolution of Parliament". He added: "I will not put up with some woman who has suddenly interloped into this constituency."

Ms McIsaac has been campaigning in the constituency for nearly two years since her selection, while Mr Brown has yet to start his campaign. Local Tories are very depressed about the situation in a seat which has a notional majority of 6,500 and opponents of Mr Brown say that many supporters are deserting the party.

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