Senior Tories turn on Rishi Sunak over failure to get a grip on election betting scandal

Rishi Sunak is under mounting pressure to intervene in the Tory general election betting scandal, with senior figures calling on him to act.

The prime minister has been urged to suspend all those under investigation from the party immediately and hold a Cabinet Office probe into the scandal.

Party chairman Richard Holden, who is responsible for overseeing the Conservative general election campaign, has remained tight-lipped on the crisis.

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A former Tory minister and the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats were among those joining the growing calls for those involved to be suspended.

Rishi Sunak has been urged to suspend all those involved in the scandal
Rishi Sunak has been urged to suspend all those involved in the scandal (AFP or licensors)

Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden wrote to the Gambling Commission asking the watchdog to release the names of all those being investigated.

As the deepening crisis threatened to derail the Tory election campaign for yet another week:

  • Sources close to Oliver Dowden confirmed the deputy PM had not bet on the election, adding pressure on other senior figures to rule themselves out
  • James Cleverly did not deny a cabinet minister was implicated, saying only “not to my knowledge”
  • Michael Gove likened the situation to Partygate, with voters seeing “one rule for them, and another for us”
  • Labour’s Bridget Phillipson said there was “genuine disgust” among voters over the allegations
  • The number of Tories – two candidates, two officials – being investigated by the watchdog rose to four
  • Anger grew that the police protection officer also accused was suspended while Tory figures remained in post

Amid the growing fallout, former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland told LBC he was dismayed by the scandal. “Whatever the motivation of these people… is this really what we expect? I think not,” he said.

Asked whether the PM should suspend those involved, he said: “I do.”

And Mr Kwarteng told GB News: “It’s childish and incredibly stupid. How did they think they wouldn’t be caught?”

He pointed the finger at Mr Sunak, saying he is in charge so is “ultimately responsible”.

He went on: “Sometimes it might be unfair, maybe he didn’t know what was going on, but as the leader of an organisation, your character, your job is to impose some sort of discipline on the institution, and if things go wrong, ultimately, I know it’s an old fashioned view and people don’t really subscribe to it anymore but ultimately I think the leader bears responsibility for what’s going on.”

After a day of silence from the prime minister, Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper told The Independent: “Rishi Sunak must personally intervene to order a Cabinet Office inquiry and suspend all those under investigation by the Gambling Commission.

Pat McFadden urged the Gambling Commission to name those being investigated
Pat McFadden urged the Gambling Commission to name those being investigated (PA Wire)

“People are sick and tired of this sleaze. Day by day, hour by hour, the Conservative Government mire themselves in more of it.”

In his damning letter to the Gambling Commission, Mr McFadden said: “With postal ballots already being sent out, many millions of people will be casting their vote this week. They deserve to have all relevant facts about this scandal at their disposal when doing so.

“I believe it is in the public interest that the Gambling Commission makes public the names of other figures you are investigating relating to this matter. There will be particular interest in whether any government ministers bet on the date of the election before it was called.”

The Independent has revealed an unnamed cabinet minister is believed to be among several figures being investigated, with numerous senior Tories ruling themselves out including Grant Shapps, Penny Mordaunt, James Cleverly, Mark Harper and Mr Gove.

Former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng laid the blame at Rishi Sunak’s door
Former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng laid the blame at Rishi Sunak’s door (PA)

Over the weekend, the Conservative Party’s chief data officer Nick Mason became the latest figure to be placed under investigation by the Gambling Commission.

He is the fourth named figure close to the party leadership under investigation by the gambling watchdog for allegedly betting on the timing of the election before the date had been announced.

The latest allegations were published by The Sunday Times, which claimed dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.

Mr Gove said: “The perception that we operate outside the rules that we set for others. That was damaging at the time of Partygate and is damaging here.

“If you’re in a privileged position [close] to the prime minister at the heart of a political operation and you use inside information to make additional money for yourself, that’s just not acceptable. So if these allegations are true, it’s very difficult to defend. “

Home secretary Mr Cleverly said he would not defend any Tories found to have placed bets, but said it was a matter for the Gambling Commission to investigate.

He added that “my understanding is that it is a small number of individuals” involved, adding: “There is an investigation by the Gambling Commission and we have been told very, very clearly that we are not to discuss the investigations.”

Several reports suggested that the commission was investigating “many more” individuals and had widened its probe to include potential bets by family and friends of those connected to the party.

An industry source told The Independent the Gambling Commission asked for details of all the bets made on a July election after 1 May, and it is now “combing through the data and picking off people from that”.

The revelations are a fresh blow to Rishi Sunak’s hopes of getting the Tory election campaign on track after three other Conservative figures were caught up in the scandal.

Craig Williams, Mr Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary standing in Montgomeryshire, was the first Tory candidate publicly linked to the betting scandal.

Laura Saunders, who has worked for the Tories since 2015 and is standing in Bristol North West, and her husband Tony Lee, director of campaigning, are both being investigated.

Shadow education secretary Ms Phillipson described “genuine disgust” among voters over the general election betting.

She told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “People across the country will place bets, but I think there is genuine disgust amongst so many voters that what we’re seeing here is pretty shocking behaviour.

“Rishi Sunak promised us that his Government would be different, he hasn’t acted against candidates concerned, he should suspend them, and – as Michael Gove has said – this just reminds people of the worst excesses of the Conservatives over the last 14 years.”