Tory Party Drops Candidates Accused Of Betting On General Election Date

Ex-Conservative parliamentary candidate Craig Williams
Ex-Conservative parliamentary candidate Craig Williams Matthew Horwood via Getty Images

The Conservative Party has withdrawn its support for the Tory candidates accused of betting on the date of the general election before it was publicly announced.

Craig Williams, Rishi Sunak’s closest aide during the last parliament, and Laura Saunders, whose husband Tony Lee is the party’s director of campaigns, are both facing investigation from the Gambling Commission.

Lee has taken a “leave of absence” from his post, while one of the PM’s closest protection officers has been suspended after allegedly placing a bet Sunak would go to the country in July.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “As a result of ongoing internal enquiries, we have concluded that we can no longer support Craig Williams or Laura Saunders as Parliamentary Candidates at the forthcoming General Election.

“We have checked with the Gambling Commission that this decision does not compromise the investigation that they are conducting, which is rightly independent and ongoing.”

It’s a sharp turn-around from this morning when minister Michael Tomlinson said he was “frustrated” at the scandal but suggested that a process had to take place first.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Paymaster General, described the U-turn as “yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s staggeringly weak leadership” as it took him “nearly two weeks to see what was obvious to everyone else”.

He added: “The Conservatives who sought to line their own pockets by betting on the election date are not fit to be candidates for parliament.

“Rishi Sunak now needs to come clean with voters across the country and tell them exactly how many of his Conservatives are implicated and who they are.

“Just as with Partygate and the PPE scandal, the Conservatives believe it is one rule for them, another for everyone else. Change is in the hands of people across the country: but to get it, they have to vote Labour on 4 July.”

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper said: “This should have happened immediately when these scandalous revelations emerged, but instead Rishi Sunak has dithered and delayed.

“Sunak must confirm immediately that these candidates will not have the Conservative whip if elected.

“From the mini budget to this gambling scandal, the Conservatives have bet against Britain and now face a reckoning at the ballot box on 4th July.”

The move from the Conservatives comes after Sunak faced mounting pressure to suspend the candidates – including from his own minister, Steve Baker.

He told ITV’s Robert Peston last night that if the allegations over the bets are true, the candidates “certainly should be suspended”.

Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, Pat McFadden, wrote to Sunak calling on him to take action last week.

He said: “Can I ask you very simply why you think that a serving police officer should be suspended from his role because of allegations that he made a bet based on inside information, while the two colleagues of yours who so far stand accused of the same offence ... are still being allowed to stand as Tory candidates in the election.”

The Conservatives said they have been contacted by the Gambling Commission “about a small number of individuals”, which is why McFadden asked “how wide this scandal goes”.

There are currently five people in the spotlight over the issue.

The two parliamentary candidates, the unnamed public protection officer, the director of campaigning Lee, and fellow Tory campaigner Nick Mason, who is also on a “leave of absence”.

Aside from Williams – who admitted to putting a “flutter” on the election in a “huge error of judgement – none of the people accused have publicly responded to the allegations.

The 2005 Gambling Act states the misuse of inside information when betting can lead to a prison sentence of up to two years.