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24 June 2024

The Tory betting scandal symbolises the party’s carelessness in government

Is Rishi Sunak trying to lose as many votes as possible?

By Freddie Hayward

The betting scandal engulfing the Conservative campaign has the potential to become an election-defining story. Two weeks ago, it emerged that Craig Williams, the prime minister’s parliamentary private secretary had placed a £100 bet on a July election three days before Rishi Sunak named the date. Since then, the number of senior Tory officials who are suspected of placing bets on a July election has increased to four. Yesterday, Sky News reported the Gambling Commission was investigating “many more” people than was currently public and was asking betting firms to provide details of all bets over £20 on the election date.

Let’s be clear about why this is so bad for the Conservatives. These Tories are alleged to be treating the election like a game. If they are found guilty (and one of the accused has denied the allegations), it means senior party officials hoped to score a tidy bonus from their privileged position in power. They were seeking to profit from democracy. The story reveals a greedy, self-serving approach to politics that will intensify the Tories’ grubby reputation. It stinks, just like the PPE scandal during Covid.

Worse, it makes the party look frivolous and unserious. Nothing symbolises the Tories’ death drive more than the prospect of gambling on the date of their potentially disastrous defeat. Their house is on fire and they appear to be grabbing what they can.

All of which invites the question: why did Rishi Sunak not suspend the accused candidates, as the police did with an officer arrested over similar gambling allegations who worked in the PM’s close protection team? Sunak has merely said that he is furious with the staff and that an investigation is ongoing. But this story will not go away. Reports in the Sunday Times suggest a second “wave” of allegations is coming. A story epitomising Tory carelessness is dominating the news agenda in the campaign’s penultimate week.

Michael Gove, usually a zealous defender of the government, has compared the scandal to partygate. That six-month spree of dishonesty and drip-drip revelations eventually resulted in Boris Johnson’s demise. If Sunak does lose in two weeks’ time, then the gambling scandal could be what this election is remembered for: a wilfully incompetent Tory campaign that did everything it could to lose as many votes as possible.

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[See also: The Conservative wipeout]

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