Can the Tories sink any lower?

The election-betting scandal has made them look corrupt and ridiculous at the same time.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Politics UK

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We might not have realised it at the time, but that day last month when Rishi Sunak announced the General Election was probably the high point of the Tory campaign. Incredibly, since he emerged on the steps of Downing Street, his suit soaked by the rain, his speech drowned out by a Labour Party anthem being blasted by activists just down the street, things have only got worse for our beleaguered prime minister. Practically every week of the election has given voters a new reason to turn their backs on the Tories – from the wildcard entrance of Nigel Farage to Sunak’s D-Day snub, arguably the worst political blunder of recent times.

The latest headache for the UK prime minister is the election-betting scandal. Last week, Sunak aide Craig Williams revealed that he is being investigated by the Gambling Commission, accused of placing a winning bet on the date of the election, three days before it was announced publicly. As if by some miracle, he correctly guessed that polling day would be on 4 July. This week, it emerged that Tony Lee, the Tories’ director of campaigning, is also being investigated, alongside his wife, Laura Saunders, the Conservative candidate for Bristol North West. At this stage, it is not known when they are alleged to have placed a bet or for how much. If that wasn’t enough, one of the PM’s personal protection officers has been arrested for his own alleged flutter on the election date, as part of a separate investigation.

As the Gambling Commission points out, using confidential information in order to gain an unfair advantage when betting ‘may constitute an offence of cheating under Section 42 of the Gambling Act, which is a criminal offence’. All four of the accused have agreed to cooperate with the respective inquiries.

This is one of those scandals that manages to be both tawdry and absurd in equal measure. The apparent stupidity of Williams, Lee and Saunders is surely as offensive as their alleged corruption and venality. Even putting morals and ethics and probity to one side, how did they think it would look to the public? Surely, the Tories’ campaign manager of all people would have some awareness of the kinds of things you can’t get away with during an election – let alone an election in which you are starting at 20 points behind your rivals. Then again, with the likes of Tony Lee in charge, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by Rishi Sunak’s polling woes. This is a campaign that has turned public tiredness with the Tories into active hostility to them, all in just a matter of weeks.

It gets even more ridiculous still. Just as the betting scandal was starting to break through into the news cycle, the Tories released an attack ad that was themed around… gambling. On Wednesday, the Conservative Party’s social-media accounts posted a video of a roulette wheel, warning voters that ‘if you bet on Labour, you can never win’. It was deleted later that day, when the geniuses finally clocked the unfortunate association, but only after it had gained 1.4million views on X.

Although Sunak is not directly to blame for any bets placed by his underlings, the Tory betting scandal does seem to say something about the state of his party in 2024. These people clearly think very little of their responsibilities, both to their party and to the people they aspire to serve, if they were willing to exploit their position in such a tawdry fashion. What’s more, after 14 years in government, it’s as if the Tories are too tired even to do corruption properly. In the 1990s, at the fag end of the John Major administration, MPs and ministers were caught taking cash for parliamentary questions, amassing five mistresses, bonking in a Chelsea kit. Craig Williams, by contrast, has potentially sacrificed his career and brought shame on his party merely by placing a dodgy bet. Of just £100. Let’s face it, the Conservatives’ hearts just aren’t in it anymore.

Could things get even worse for Rishi Sunak? With 13 days still to go until polling day, I’d say that’s a pretty safe bet.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on X: @FraserMyers.

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Topics Politics UK


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