"Michael Gove attended a public meeting at 7.30pm this evening in Camberley in his Surrey Heath Constituency. He called the meeting shortly after the expenses scandal broke to provide the opportunity to answer questions from constituents and to listen to their concerns. By 7pm a large crowd had already gathered at the venue, a church hall near the town centre, together with national media represented by BBC television, Radio 4, and other local radio stations and print media. By the time the meeting commenced there were approximately 3-400 people in attendance.
"Michael opened the meeting with a statement in which he explained his actions and specifically addressed the allegations made against him by the Daily Telegraph who had accused him of 'flipping' his second home, of spending £7000 on furniture for his second home, and of paying £500 for a single night stay in a local hotel. Michael explained, in detail, the events surrounding his house move. He explained that the allegations of 'flipping' were unfounded. He had not changed the designation of his second home to profit from it, or to avoid capital gains tax as was the situation in other cases where the term 'flipping' first became public parlance. Instead he had simply re-designated his London house as his primary residence, as it had become his family's main residence. He had not sold any property or made any profit at the expense of the taxpayer.
"Michael went on to explain the situation regarding his purchase of furniture. He explained that following his election in Surrey Heath he had to furnish 2 homes and had therefore had to buy furniture for his second home. He spent in excess of £7000 but claimed legitimately for this sum. However, he had decided upon reflection, and in response to some of the allegations, that with the benefit of hindsight he should have considering buying cheaper furniture and rather than claiming a lesser sum he had decided simply to repay the full cost of the furniture. Similarly he said that the 1 night stay in a hotel had been decided on the basis of convenience as he had a constituency event late the previous night and again the following morning but on reflection he wished he had taken the time to find more cost-effective accommodation for his family that night - so had again decided to pay the entire sum back.
"Michael then took questions from constituents. The questions were very direct and ranged across the whole spectrum of issues regarding his personal circumstances and the question of how the democratic system needs reform. Michael answered very directly, openly and honestly to all the charges made against him. When asked about the future potential for profiting from purchase of a second home when he sold it in the future he pledged that if any profit were made from it, he would pay any profit made back to the taxpayer – an undertaking which whilst surprising to many of his constituents was well received.
"To call a public meeting whilst public anger is so apparent was a real political gamble. He submitted himself to his critics and showed solidity and integrity under fire and emerged from the evening, if not with his reputation enhanced, then at least with the allegations addressed and with a demonstration of openness and self-effacing honesty to which many paid tribute."
It would be interesting to know of other MPs who are doing this and to have reports from those meetings.