Election date betting row: Keir Starmer accuses Rishi Sunak of 'total lack of leadership'

election date betting row: keir starmer accuses rishi sunak of 'total lack of leadership'

General Election campaign 2024

Rishi Sunak was accused on Friday of a “total lack of leadership” as the Prime Minister struggled to move on from a growing scandal about bets on the election timing allegedly placed by Tory insiders.

Sir Keir Starmer said: “If they were my candidates, they’d be gone by now, out of the door.”

The Liberal Democrats meanwhile demanded the release of any WhatsApp messages related to the alleged bets sent or received by members of the PM’s “inner circle”.

Addressing a BBC Question Time audience on Thursday night, the Prime Minister refused to suspend two Conservative candidates who are under investigation by the Gambling Commission.

Laura Saunders and Craig Williams currently remain Tory candidates for the July 4 election with the blessing of Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

Ms Saunders’ husband Tony Lee is also reportedly under investigation by the Gambling Commission, and the party said he had taken a leave of absence from his job as CCHQ’s director of campaigns.

A fourth individual - a police officer in the PM’s personal security detail - has been arrested and suspended from operational duties.

Mr Sunak on Friday repeated that he would not “compromise the integrity” of probes into the betting allegations when pressed repeatedly on why he was not suspending the two candidates.

“There are multiple investigations that are very serious in nature that are currently ongoing with the police involved, because there’s potentially criminal allegations involved in all of this,” he said, while restating his sense of anger.

Asked what he was angry about, Mr Sunak said “the thought that someone might have done the things that are alleged”, denying his anger was about the scandal overshadowing his beleaguered campaign.

The PM was trying to launch the Conservatives’ manifesto in Wales, but he was besieged by questions over the betting affair instead.

Mr Williams, an outgoing MP, was a parliamentary aide to Mr Sunak and is standing again for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr.

According to the latest MRP projection from YouGov, the constituency is the only one in Wales that the Tories will hold onto.

On a campaign visit to Scotland, the Labour leader said: “The Prime Minister is showing a total lack of leadership.

Sir Keir added: “Let’s look at what actually happened. In relation to a General Election, the instincts of these Tories when a General Election is called is not how do we make this work for the country? But how do I make some money? And that tells you a broader picture about politics.

“Of course he should suspend these candidates... He needs to take tough action. He’s not even saying today whether there are more involved.”

Mr Sunak’s Cabinet ally Welsh Secretary David TC Davies said that he did not know if any other names were to come out.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he was worried about the party’s reputation in light of various ethics questions including the Partygate scandal, Mr Davies replied: “Well, of course I am.”

He added on Sky News: “It’s totally unacceptable if people have broken the rules in any way, there is an investigation going on by the Gambling Commission and I welcome that, and anyone who is found to have broken the rules will be kicked out of the Conservative Party.”

But Lib Dem Treasury spokeswoman Sarah Olney insisted: “WhatsApp messages of the Prime Minister’s inner circle must be handed over to the Cabinet Office, or else it raises suspicion of yet more Conservative cover-ups.

“We can’t have another Partygate moment where Whatsapp messages suddenly disappear when the heat is on,” she told the Standard. “The public deserves the truth. Full transparency is needed to end the endless chaos and scandal at the heart of the Conservative Party.”

Conservative Home founder Tim Montgomerie told Times Radio that “half a dozen more people in Tory HQ are apparently under investigation”, but that was denied by a party source.

Mr Montgomerie added that Tory members and activists were “shell-shocked” over the betting news, which has intensified the pressure on Mr Sunak amid a slew of devastating opinion polls and the news from former Tory net zero czar Chris Skidmore that he intends to vote Labour for the first time.

Mr Davies said he was “not in the least bit bothered about” Mr Skidmore’s announcement, claiming that his former colleague was “distracted” having taken on well-paid work in the renewable energy industry.

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