‘He’s been silly, hasn’t he?’: Welshpool voters on Craig Williams’ election bet

<span>Craig Williams' constituency office in Welshpool. He was born and raised in Montgomeryshire and studied at Welshpool high school.</span><span>Photograph: Steven Morris/Guardian</span>
Craig Williams' constituency office in Welshpool. He was born and raised in Montgomeryshire and studied at Welshpool high school.Photograph: Steven Morris/Guardian

They don’t get too many political scandals in Welshpool. Repairs to a canal bridge were the most eye-catching agenda item at the last full town council meeting. But the place was abuzz on Thursday with talk of why on earth its local lad done good, Craig Williams, Rishi Sunak’s closest parliamentary aide, had placed a bet on a July election three days before the prime minister named the date.

“He’s been silly, hasn’t he?” said Paul Alexander, who runs a hardware and camping shop on the main street of the mid-Wales town, down the road from Williams’ white-washed constituency office. “It’s not a great look. It feels a bit greedy. He’s risking his political future on a flutter.”

Related: David Cameron says Rishi Sunak aide’s bet on election date was ‘very foolish’

Opposite, a woman came out of the Coral betting shop having placed a wager on a horse. “Why didn’t he get someone else to put a bet on for him if it was going to be embarrassing?” she asked.

The woman asked not to be named for two reasons: her husband doesn’t realise she bets, and she knows the Williams family. “They’re very down to earth,” she said. “You see them around town all the time. Craig’s done well for himself. You do wonder how someone who’s climbed that far can be so stupid. It doesn’t reflect well on the PM.”

The woman said she usually voted Tory. “I may go for Reform now – it makes me think the Tories must all be a bit daft.”

At the Pheasant Inn, mid-afternoon drinkers were discussing the bet as the Guardian walked in. “It cracked me up when I read it,” said Simon Gibbs, a designer. “He’s a genuine guy. He helped me out when I had an issue with some solar panels. I’ll still vote for him.”

Bob, a childcare professional, was not so forgiving. “He’s like every Tory – they always want a bit more.”

Williams, who has apologised for what he called a “huge error of judgment”, was born and bred in Montgomeryshire and studied at Welshpool high school. He lives in Llanfair Caereinion, a market town linked to Welshpool by steam trains, and lists his interests as rugby, real ale and local heritage.

Neil Bayliss, an archaeologist and Plaid Cymru supporter, wasn’t impressed. “If he was a stockbroker and did this he’d be in big trouble for insider trading. This should be a safe seat for the Tories. I bet if it wasn’t too late, they’d have parachuted someone in.”

The Guardian’s exclusive on the bet dropped in time for the local paper, the County Times, to get the story on its front page. It pointed out that YouGov polling had the Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr seat, which Williams is defending, as the only safe Tory seat in Wales.

“That may change now,” said a local Labour party member, Rob Williams. “There are a lot of people round here who might support Reform instead.”

He said Nick Griffin, the former leader of the BNP, lived nearby. “There is that element here.”

Williams added that Lembit Opik, who used to be a Liberal Democrat MP in the area, fell out of favour after his relationship with Gabriela Irimia, of the pop music double act the Cheeky Girls. He said he didn’t think “laddish behaviour” went down well in these parts.

The other parties will try to use the storm, of course. The Plaid Cymru candidate, Elwyn Vaughan, said it was coming up on the doorstep. “People are disgusted by the way Craig Williams has behaved. If the Tories had any humility they would revoke their support for his candidacy.”