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Election campaign day 29: Betting scandal takes hold for the Tories

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a visit to Sizewell in Suffolk, while on the General Election campaign trail (PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a visit to Sizewell in Suffolk, while on the General Election campaign trail (PA)

The Conservative Party is grappling with a fresh scandal, with news of a campaign official betting on the General Election date emerging, as it hopes to turn around its poll ratings.

Here are the key moments from day 29 on the election campaign trail:

– Stop the bets

Rishi Sunak’s Tories are beleaguered by a mid-campaign scandal, as it emerged the party’s director of campaigning Tony Lee has taken a leave of absence amid reports both he and his would-be MP wife Laura Saunders are being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

The pair 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.

Craig Williams, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary aide and Conservative candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, last week admitted he had “put a flutter” on the date of the poll in the run up to it being called.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has criticised those involved in the bets, telling reporters any candidates found to have used inside information to bet on the date of the General Election should be sacked.

First Minister’s Questions
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross during First Minister’s Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scandals have beset the various incarnations of the Conservative Party which has been in power since 2019, with sleaze becoming a popular accusation levelled against its leaders since Boris Johnson.

Some of the hardest hitting crises have included Partygate, the decision by Mr Johnson not to fire his deputy chief whip Chris Pincher even though the then-prime minister knew about groping allegations levelled against him, and the Conservatives coming out to bat for Owen Paterson in 2021, when the former minister was found by parliamentary authorities to have breached paid advocacy rules.

Mr Sunak, crowned Tory leader after Liz Truss’s short spell at the top, came into office with a promise to restore trust in politics.

Partygate has already come up on the campaign trail for Mr Sunak, who was asked about it during a question and answer session with factory workers during the first week of canvassing.

Three opinion polls only on Wednesday showed Labour maintaining a comfortable lead over the Tories, with Nigel Farage’s Reform UK behind them.

– Quote of the day

Conservative former minister Sir Iain Duncan Smith: “I just think it’s people being incredibly stupid and venal when they do that sort of thing.

“First of all, what the hell are they doing betting anyway the outcome of an election? They’re meant to fight it, not foresee what may happen.”

– Not over until it’s Gove-r

Leading the Conservatives’ campaign efforts on Thursday was Housing Secretary Michael Gove, who insisted the Tories were not defeated yet despite the latest polls.

“There are opinion polls, as I’ve acknowledged and as we both know, that are not great, but it’s not the 90th minute, we’re not in ‘Fergie time’ yet,” he said in reference to former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Mr Gove added: “I’m a Scotland fan, so you wait until the final whistle.

“Sometimes it looks as though the odds are against you, but you keep on fighting.”

General Election campaign 2024
Minister for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities Michael Gove during a housing visit in West London, while on the General Election campaign trail (Aaron Chown/PA)

– Hunting for the chief executive vote

Elsewhere, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was less upbeat than his colleague as he appeared at the Times CEO summit.

There he was less than ebullient about his chances of winning the new Godalming and Ash constituency, which he said was “too close to call” and said the Conservatives are not pretending that the party winning the General Election is “the most likely outcome”.

Mr Hunt also said he believed there had not been “sustained economic scarring” from Liz Truss’s mini-budget.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves meanwhile told business leaders she hoped they could see their “fingerprints” all over Labour’s manifesto.

– In England’s green and pleasant land

Sir Keir Starmer has denied a Labour Party official said a future government could “flatten the whole green belt” to achieve homebuilding plans.

Labour has vowed to reform planning laws in order to build some 1.5 million homes over the next five years if elected, which could include construction on poor quality land currently designated as green belt, which the party dubs “grey belt” land.

Sir Keir’s denial comes after Politico’s London Playbook newsletter attributed the remark to an unnamed Labour official.

The comment was seized on by Rishi Sunak, who shared it on X, formerly Twitter, with the caption: “Good to finally get Labour’s real views on Britain’s green belt.”

– Farage takes aim at Blackpool

Reform UK leader Mr Farage took up a gun on the campaign trail in Cheshire, as he tried his hand at clay pigeon shooting.

“Never point a gun, even in jest,” he said to photographers as he refused to aim it at them.

The visit came ahead of a speech by the Reform leader in Blackpool on Thursday evening.

– Social media moment

The Liberal Democrats have weighed in on the Prime Minister’s election campaign being thrown into fresh turmoil over the betting allegations.

The Lib Dems shared a picture of a billboard showing Mr Sunak, former prime minister Ms Truss and Chancellor Mr Hunt behind what appears to be a poker table.

The picture also appears to show Mr Hunt throwing house-shaped dice to criticise the Tories’ handling of mortgage rates.

The image was shared on X, formerly Twitter and captioned: “The Conservatives’ economic mismanagement sent mortgages and rents soaring.

“Don’t let them bet the house again.”

– Across the Union

In Northern Ireland, the Alliance party launched its manifesto.

Party leader Naomi Long warned Alliance would no longer tolerate Stormont’s “toxic” and “undemocratic” veto system, and urged the UK and Irish governments to show leadership and drive change to the devolved structures in Northern Ireland.

The Scottish Greens launched their election offer in Edinburgh, with co-leader Patrick Harvie urging the next UK government to drop its objections to Scotland’s gender reforms.

– What is happening tomorrow?

Mr Sunak will be in campaigning in Wales, while Sir Keir Starmer will return to Scotland.

Sticking with the nations, BBC Wales will host a Welsh leaders debate, while the BBC’s Panorama election special interview with Nigel Farage is also expected to air.