Conservative party election campaign reeling under weight of betting scandal

Rishi Sunak criticised amid Gambling Commission investigation into alleged misuse of privileged information by staffers with calls for him to suspend party figures

British prime minister Rishi Sunak: Michael Gove says the betting scandal is 'sucking the oxygen out of the campaign'. Photograph: Benjamin Cremel/PA

A fourth Conservative Party staffer is under investigation by the Gambling Commission for betting on the timing of the UK general election, adding further fuel to a scandal that has engulfed Rishi Sunak’s party just two weeks from polling day.

Nick Mason, the Tories’ chief data officer, has taken a leave of absence as the regulator probes his possible use of privileged information to bet on the vote, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

The betting scandal has dealt a heavy blow to the Conservative Party as it battles to revive its struggling campaign ahead of the July 4th general vote.

The British prime minister is facing severe criticism over his handling of the saga, as calls grow for him to suspend party figures who are being probed by the Gambling Commission.


‘Angry’ Sunak refuses to say how many Tories under investigation in betting scandalOpens in new window ]

Three Tory party members are already under investigation: Craig Williams, Sunak’s closest parliamentary aide; Laura Saunders, a party staffer; and her husband, Tory campaign director Tony Lee.

Of those, Mr Williams and Ms Saunders are still standing as candidates in the general election.

An unnamed police officer working as part of Sunak’s protection team was also arrested last week over “alleged bets” made on the election.

Mr Sunak said that he had been “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations.

Fireworks and Farage: Reform UK leader brings anti-immigration political cabaret act to Clacton’s theatreOpens in new window ]

“It’s a really serious matter. It’s right that they’re being investigated properly by the relevant law enforcement authorities, including a criminal investigation by the police,” he said last week.

Michael Gove said that the scandal was “sucking the oxygen out of the campaign” and that “a few individuals end up creating an incredibly damaging atmosphere for the party”.

“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” he told the Sunday Times. “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.”

The investigation into Mr Mason is the latest in a series of gaffes that have rattled the Conservatives’ campaign ever since Sunak called the election in the rain on May 22nd.

Police officer working in Rishi Sunak’s protection team arrested over alleged UK general election betsOpens in new window ]

One of the most damaging was the prime minister’s decision to leave D-Day anniversary celebrations in France early to attend a broadcast interview, a decision for which he was forced to profusely apologise.

A spokesperson for Mr Mason said that it would be inappropriate to comment during an investigation but he denies wrongdoing.

Asked about the gambling regulator’s investigation into Mr Mason, a Conservative party spokesperson said: “As instructed by the Gambling Commission, we are not permitted to discuss any matters related to any investigation with the subject or any other persons.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024