Scott Benton, the MP for Blackpool South, has lost the Conservative Party whip after an investigation by the Times revealed he offered to lobby ministers on behalf of fake gambling industry investors.
Undercover Times reporters posed as investors in the betting and gaming industry who were looking for a paid adviser. They filmed Benton explaining that he could table parliamentary questions, leak confidential policy documents and attempt to influence ministers to help weaken proposed reforms to the sector. Benton did not pursue the role and no rules appear to have been broken. It has been reported that the MP has referred himself to parliament’s standards watchdog.
Blackpool residents have been significantly impacted by the gambling industry in recent years. In 2016, the Blackpool Gazette reported that more than “£175m has been gambled in Blackpool in a year”. The Lancashire Evening Post investigated the devastating effects of high-stakes betting machines in Lancashire. Research by the University of Bristol revealed that the most deprived parts of the UK have more than ten times the number of betting shops than the most affluent.
Rishi Sunak has lent into comparisons with the former prime minister, John Major. In his 1993 conference speech, Major pledged that the Conservatives would go “back to basics” and traditional values. His promise was later ridiculed when his MPs became involved in various sleaze scandals. While the controversies that surrounded Major’s administration usually involved sex, some of those plaguing Conservative MPs relate to cash or lobbying.
In 2021 the former Conservative minister, Owen Paterson, resigned after he was found to have breached parliament’s rules by lobbying on behalf of two companies, Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods. Paterson worked as a paid consultant for the companies, earning more than £100,000 per year. Nadhim Zahawi was sacked as Conservative Party chairman in January after he was found to have broken the ministerial code by failing to disclose he paid HMRC a penalty over a tax dispute.
Sunak himself was the subject to an allegation of a conflict of interest last month, after it emerged that a childcare firm part-owned by his wife, Akshata Murthy, could benefit from new policies announced in the Budget.
In Sunak’s first speech outside of 10 Downing Street as PM, much like Major, he vowed to bring “integrity, professionalism and accountability” back to government. At this point, it would be a bold move to repeat that pledge at his party’s conference in October.