Britain’s embattled ruling party roiled by election-related gambling scandal

Britain’s governing Conservative Party has been rocked by a gambling scandal in the middle of the campaign for an election that it is expected to lose.

The UK’s PA Media news agency reported on Thursday that Conservative candidate Laura Saunders is facing a gambling watchdog investigation into alleged betting offenses. The BBC reported that Saunders in being investigated for placing a bet on the timing of the general election, which is due to take place on July 4.

Prior to standing as a candidate, Saunders worked for the Conservative Party. UK media outlets also reported that she is married to Tony Lee, the Conservative Party’s director of campaigning.

Lee is also being investigating by the Gambling Commission over an alleged bet relating to the date of the general election, according to the BBC. He is now taking a leave of absence from his role, with just two weeks until the vote.

Saunders has declined to comment on the matter. A Conservative spokesperson told CNN in a statement: “We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals. As the Gambling Commission is an independent body, it wouldn’t be proper to comment further, until any process is concluded.”

Saunders is the second Conservative candidate being looked into by the UK’s Gambling Commission.

Craig Williams, who worked as an aide to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in parliament, is alleged to have placed £100 ($127) on the election taking place in July just three days before the prime minister officially made the announcement.

Williams told the BBC last week: “I clearly made a huge error of judgement that’s for sure and I apologize… I will not be expanding on (my) statement because it’s an independent process … The Gambling Commission are looking at it now.”

The story became worse for Sunak on Wednesday, after it was reported that a police officer working on the prime minister’s security staff was also being looked into.

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: “The matter was immediately referred to officers in the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, who opened an investigation, and the officer was also removed from operational duties.”

The official opposition Labour Party has said the scandal is just the latest example of the Conservative Party’s pattern of cronyism, in reference to the way that lucrative government contracts were handed to people associated with the Conservative Party during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It stinks. And the public will come to their own conclusions. It’s not a good look,” a Labour source told CNN.

The Conservatives posted an advert warning against a "bet on Labour," but deleted it hours later. - Conservatives/X
The Conservatives posted an advert warning against a "bet on Labour," but deleted it hours later. - Conservatives/X

In another sign of the Conservatives’ disjointed campaign, the party had on Wednesday posted a video on its official X account, warning voters not to “bet on Labour.” The video showed a spinning roulette wheel and ended with a campaign slogan: “If you think Labour will win. Start saving.”

But, after allegations emerged that their staff had placed bets on the date of the election, the Conservatives deleted the post Thursday.

Sunak and the Conservatives have been polling behind Labour since November 2021 and as things stand the Conservatives are expected to suffer a historic defeat on July 4. It would be the first time Labour has entered power from opposition since 1997 and would end 14 years of controversial government by the Conservative Party.

Final results will not be known until July 5. If Sunak does lose the election, he will leave office the same day.

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