Cleverly: ‘No knowledge’ of ministers placing election bets as Tory crisis grows

James Cleverly said he had no reason to believe that ministers had placed bets on the timing of the General Election as the Tory campaign was hit by further gambling allegations.

The Conservative campaign has been plunged into a deeper crisis as the party’s chief data officer took a leave of absence amid claims he placed bets on the election timing.

The PA news agency understands that data chief Nick Mason is taking the leave of absence from Conservative HQ, following director of campaigning Tony Lee in stepping back from crucial roles at the party.

Graphic showing election polling
Graphic showing election polling

The loss of two senior figures at a time when Labour’s poll lead over the Tories remains stubbornly around 20 points gives Rishi Sunak a further headache in the closing stages of the campaign.

Asked on the BBC if any ministers had put a bet on the timing of the election, Mr Cleverly said: “Not to my knowledge.”

The Home Secretary told GB News: “My view has always been the case that people in government should focus on delivering for the people of this country.

“People who are officials of the party should be focused on returning as many Conservative MPs as possible so we can form a government, so that we can serve the British people.

“And anything other than that is inappropriate. So whilst I’m not going to discuss any of the details, people should focus exclusively on the people we’re here to serve.”

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove compared the impact of the row with the Partygate scandal.

“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” he told the Sunday Times, adding: “That’s the most potentially damaging thing.”

Mr Gove went on to suggest it was “just not acceptable” for those in a “privileged position” close to the Prime Minister to use what he described as “inside information to make additional money for yourself”.

He added: “You are, in effect, securing an advantage against other people who are betting entirely fairly and without that knowledge. So if these allegations are true, it’s very difficult to defend.”

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

As well as the two Conservative officials, Mr Lee’s wife Laura Saunders, the candidate in Bristol North West, is also under investigation by the commission.

Craig Williams, who was the Prime Minister’s parliamentary private secretary and is the Conservative candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, has admitted to putting “a flutter” on the date of the election and is also facing a probe.

And one of the Prime Minister’s police protection officers was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in public office and is also subject to an investigation by the gambling regulator.

Mr Sunak surprised many Westminster-watchers by calling the election for July 4 instead of holding the contest in the autumn.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has said there is “genuine disgust” among voters over the General Election betting allegations.

She told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “The issue here is whether those people who had inside knowledge of what was going on used that information in placing a bet.

“People across the country will place bets, but I think there is genuine disgust among 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.”

Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden wrote to the Gambling Commission calling for the watchdog to name all those being investigated.

“With postal ballots already being sent out, many millions of people will be casting their vote this week,” he said. “They deserve to have all relevant facts about this scandal at their disposal when doing so.”

The Liberal Democrats called on Mr Sunak to intervene personally, with a Cabinet Office inquiry into the reports.

Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This is now an all-out scandal at the heart of Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party.”

In other developments:

– Mr Cleverly said his parliamentary aide James Sunderland was making a “counterintuitive point” for “dramatic effect” when he described the Government’s Rwanda policy as “crap”.

– Ms Phillipson said Labour would set out “strengthened guidance” for women-only spaces but “I also believe that trans people have the right to appropriate care as well”.

– Reform UK leader Nigel Farage denied he was “an apologist or supporter” of Russian President Vladimir Putin but writing in the Sunday Telegraph he said “the West has played into Putin’s hands, giving him the excuse to do what he wanted to do anyway”.