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26 June 2024

What the bipartisan gambling scandal means for politics

Labour’s suspension of a candidate for betting on the election will tarnish the whole system.

By Freddie Hayward

Oh dear, a Labour candidate placed a bet on the election. You didn’t think it would let the Tories get all the hate, did you? The circumstances are completely different to the Conservative saga: Kevin Craig, the Labour candidate in question, bet that he would lose in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich in an apparent attempt to make 4 July a win-win.

It’s hard to see how this is insider trading, given Craig couldn’t know the result before the election. Keir Starmer also swiftly suspended Craig, a course of action Sunak refused to take for his candidates until this week.

Things are getting worse for the Tories, too. A Conservative cabinet minister has admitted to placing a bet on the election, and BBC Newsnight has reported up to 15 Conservative candidates are being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

Labour’s involvement is what changes this story. It has three consequences. First, Labour can’t attack the Tories over the betting scandal with as much force as before. It doesn’t matter that Craig’s self-doubt about his campaigning abilities is substantively different from allegedly using insider knowledge to cheat the bookies. The point is that the distinction between saint-like Labour and the uncouth Conservatives has been blurred. Starmer, however unfairly, risks being called a hypocrite.

The second consequence is that this campaign is probably not going to reach the rarefied heights of genuine policy debate before polling day. We have seven days left and still the dominant story is gambling, not local government funding, the NHS, record immigration, social care, Europe’s hard right, Brexit, housing, quantitative easing or the government’s failure to build a train line.

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Which will only intensify the third factor: apathy. People I’ve spoken to this campaign barely know there’s an election on, or barely care. Four scandal-strewn years have bowdlerised voters’ trust in, and respect for, politics. Earlier this month, the British Social Attitudes survey found trust in politics at its lowest ebb. A record 45 per cent “almost never” trust governments to place the nation’s needs above their party. This figure is 22 percentage points higher than in 2020.

Bipartisan scandals are especially bad for public trust because they indict not only a single party squirming after 14 years in power but the whole system. Think of the expenses scandal. All parties were tarnished which meant the system itself was. As voters pay more attention to politics in the run-up to polling day, this disillusionment will only get worse.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: Labour’s women problem]

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