Election day bets scandal spirals as Labour suspends one of its own

Sir Keir Starmer with Kevin Craig (Keir Starmer and Kevin Craig)
Sir Keir Starmer with Kevin Craig (Keir Starmer and Kevin Craig)

Sir Keir Starmer said on Wednesday that he only gambled on horse racing as he defended his decision to suspend a Labour candidate caught up in an election gambling scandal.

The Labour leader told reporters: “I’ve never placed a political bet, I only bet on the horses. So that’s where I stand on this.

“And I don’t think that we should be lured into thinking this is a problem with the rules, it’s a problem with politicians,” he said amid calls to outlaw such kind of bets by politicians.

“You can see from the reaction of the public that they know straight away that what’s been going on in the Tory party, this sort of insider dealing, is wrong.”

His comments came after Rishi Sunak on Tuesday caved in to intensifying pressure and dropped his support for two Conservative candidates at the centre of a betting scandal over the timing of the election - Craig Williams and Laura Saunders.

A few hours later Labour said it had suspended Kevin Craig, its parliamentary candidate for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, after being told the Gambling Commission has launched an investigation into him.

He apologised after betting that he would lose the race.

Sir Keir said Mr Craig’s bet was “materially different” to the Tory candidates investigated for placing bets on the election date but that his decision to suspend him was still appropriate.

“I made very clear that if any of my candidates were being investigated in relation to the Gambling Commission, I’d remove them straight away, which is what I’ve done.

“That’s in a sharp contrast to Rishi Sunak, who took days and days and days before he took action,” he said, claiming that there were wider lessons to absorb for voters in next week’s election.

A Labour spokeswoman said after being contacted by the commission the party acted immediately to administratively suspend Mr Craig pending investigation.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride insisted that the PM followed due process against the Tories.

But the U-turn came under duress, after Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker joined other Conservatives such as former defence minister Tobias Ellwood in calling for the suspension of four Tories alleged to have placed bets on the election date.

“I would call them up and ask them, ‘Did you do it?’ And if they did it, then they are suspended,” Mr Baker said on ITV’s Peston on Monday evening.

“But the Prime Minister would have to answer why he hasn’t done it, I haven’t got inside information on why the Prime Minister hasn’t done it.”

The decision means that Mr Williams no longer has official Tory endorsement in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, nor Ms Saunders in Bristol North West. But they will remain on the ballot paper as the deadline for changes has passed.

Mr Williams, who was an MP in the outgoing Commons and was a parliamentary aide to Mr Sunak, has admitted to a “huge error of judgment” in placing “a flutter” on the election date three days before the PM made his shock announcement on May 22.

Mr Williams said he "committed an error of judgment, not an offence".

In a video statement he said he was "fully co-operating with the routine inquiries for the Gambling Commission and I intend to clear my name".

Ms Saunders has vowed to cooperate with the Gambling Commission investigation. Her husband, Tory director of campaigning Tony Lee, and the party’s chief data officer Nick Mason have both taken leave of absence.

Tory candidates Craig Williams and Laura Saunders are no longer being backed by the party (ES Composite)
Tory candidates Craig Williams and Laura Saunders are no longer being backed by the party (ES Composite)

As late as Monday, Mr Sunak had insisted that it was “proper” to wait for the outcome of investigations by the Gambling Commission, the police and the Conservative Party itself as he struggled to move on from the scandal engulfing his campaign for the July 4 election.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack became the first Cabinet member to admit to placing bets on the election date.

But he is not being investigated by the Gambling Commission because he staked the money earlier in the year, before the period covered by the watchdog’s probe.Mr Stride defended his colleague, telling Times Radio: “The important thing with Alister I think, is the fact… the bet or bets or whatever it may have been that he placed did not occur in May.

“He’s very clear that he has not broken any of the rules and is not indeed being investigated by the Gambling Commission.”

The Work and Pensions Secretary said there should be a debate about a possible ban on betting by politicians.

He added: “But let me be very, very clear: by saying that, I totally recognise that using inside information, as may have been the case for certain individuals in this way, is utterly wrong.”