Shropshire Star

Tory campaign director takes leave of absence amid election betting ‘scandal’

Tony Lee stepped away from his Conservative HQ job after it emerged his would-be MP wife was being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

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The Conservative Party's blue General Election campaign bus

Rishi Sunak’s election campaign has been thrown into fresh turmoil over allegations of betting on the date of the General Election.

With just two weeks until polling day, the Conservatives’ director of campaigning Tony Lee took a leave of absence amid reports both he and his would-be MP wife Laura Saunders are being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

Ms Saunders and Mr Lee are the latest people with links to the Tory party or No 10 caught up in allegations about betting on the date of the July 4 contest.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove admitted the situation “doesn’t look great” for the Conservatives.

News of the investigation into Bristol North West candidate Ms Saunders emerged after the arrest of one of the Prime Minister’s police protection officers and the previous revelation of a Gambling Commission investigation into his parliamentary aide Craig Williams over betting allegations.

A Conservative spokesman said: “We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals.

“As the Gambling Commission is an independent body, it wouldn’t be proper to comment further, until any process is concluded.”

The Gambling Commission said: “Currently the commission is investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election.

“This is an ongoing investigation, and the commission cannot provide any further details at this time.

“We are not confirming or denying the identity of any individuals involved in this investigation.”

On the Tory campaign battle bus in London, Mr Gove told broadcasters: “Obviously, it doesn’t look great. And, obviously, the conclusions lots of people are drawing are not at all great.

“But I don’t know all the facts at the moment. I’d be loath to condemn without there being an investigation that’s been concluded.”

Mr Sunak’s parliamentary aide Mr Williams, who is standing in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, is also under investigation over a bet.

A graph showing the average opinion poll ratings of the main parties from February 20 to June 20
(PA Graphics)

Mr Gove said: “The Gambling Commission are looking at Craig and also looking at Laura, and we’ll see what the conclusions are.”

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said figures being looked into over the claims were “incredibly stupid and venal”, telling The News Agents podcast that their behaviour was “unacceptable and whatever happens to them wouldn’t be hard enough in my book”.

The BBC reported that the gambling regulator was also looking into Mr Lee.

Betfair data appears to show a flurry of bets on a July poll placed on May 21, the day before Mr Sunak called the election, adding to concerns about political insiders gambling on the timing.

Following a few months of people wagering a few pounds on a summer poll, betting spiked on the day prior to the announcement, including some in the hundreds of pounds at odds that would have delivered handsome profits in the thousands.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats called for the Tories to suspend both Ms Saunders and Mr Williams.

Sir Keir Starmer said: “If it was one of my candidates, they’d be gone and their feet would not have touched the floor.”

On Wednesday the Metropolitan Police said they were informed by the Gambling Commission that a police constable from the force’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command was being investigated over the alleged bets.

The police officer, who has been removed from operational duties, was bailed pending further inquiries after they were taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of misconduct in a public office.

The matter has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which said it will “make a decision on the level of IOPC involvement in due course”.

The revelations about Mr Williams emerged last week, and he admitted it was a “huge error of judgment” to have a “flutter” on the election.

Labour’s campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden has written to the Prime Minister calling for the candidates’ suspension and questioning “how wide this scandal goes”.

He said that given the police officer had been removed from their duties, “surely you can understand that – yet again – this looks as though there is one rule for members of the Tory party, and another rule for everyone else”.

“If you can see how wrong that is, will you now at the very least remove your support for Mr Williams and Ms Saunders as Conservative election candidates?

“The other major question to be addressed is how wide this scandal goes.

“If some of your most senior colleagues felt they had carte blanche to misuse the inside information they had on the election in order to make a profit, we must ask how many others had advance access to the same information, and placed bets either by themselves, or through their friends and family?”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “It would be an utter disgrace if Conservative politicians were shown to be more focused on turning a quick buck rather than the needs of the country.”

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