Thursday, July 25, 2024

What is the gambling scandal that Rishi Sunak’s party is embroiled in ahead of the UK polls?

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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a BBC Question Time Leaders’ Special in York, England, 20 June, 2024. AP

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party is facing a major scandal just weeks before the 4 July national election. The controversy centres on allegations that several Conservative politicians and associated individuals placed bets on the election date using insider information.

This has led to investigations by the UK’s Gambling Commission and law enforcement, casting a shadow over the party’s already troubled campaign.

Sunak expressed his anger and frustration over the allegations, stating, “I was incredibly angry, incredibly angry, to learn of these allegations. It’s a really serious matter. It’s right that they’re being investigated properly by the relevant law enforcement authorities, including a criminal investigation by the police.”

“And I want to be crystal clear that if anyone has broken the rules, they should face the full force of the law. That’s what those investigations are there to do. And I hope that they do their work as quickly and as thoroughly as possible,” he added during a BBC Question Time leaders’ special televised debate on Thursday.

How did the scandal break?

The scandal first broke when it was reported that a second Conservative candidate, Laura Saunders, was under investigation by the Gambling Commission. Saunders, running for the Bristol North West seat, is married to Tony Lee, the Conservative Party’s director of campaigning. Lee has since taken a leave of absence from his position.

The UK’s Gambling Commission contacted the Conservative Party about a “small number of individuals” connected to the investigation. The party declined to comment further pending the investigation’s outcome.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a BBC Question Time Leaders’ Special in York, England, 20 June, 2024. Reuters

Saunders’ attorney, Nama Zarroug, in a statement, said, “It is inappropriate to conduct any investigation of this kind via the media, and doing so risks jeopardiaing the work of the Gambling Commission and the integrity of its investigation.” Saunders is considering legal action against the BBC and other publishers for infringement of privacy rights, reported AP.

Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary, acknowledged placing a £100 bet on the election date before it was announced. He stated, “I put a flutter on the general election some weeks ago. This has resulted in some routine inquiries and I confirm I will fully cooperate with these.”

One of Sunak’s police bodyguards from the Royalty and Specialist Protection Command was also arrested on suspicion of misconduct in public office. The officer allegedly placed bets on the election date before it was announced.

What could be the political repercussions?

The scandal has intensified the difficulties facing Sunak’s campaign. Polls indicate that the Conservative Party trails the Labour Party by a significant margin, with Labour potentially poised for a landslide victory.

UK opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks to the media next to UK Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves as he visits Morrisons supermarket during a Labour general election campaign event in Wiltshire, UK, 19 June, 2024. Reuters

UK finance minister Jeremy Hunt remarked to UK’s Times, “It’s going to be very tough. I don’t think any of us would pretend that is the most likely outcome. We can certainly do a lot better than the polls are suggesting and we are working very hard to do so.”

A UK YouGov poll suggested that Labour, led by Keir Starmer, could win with a 200-seat parliamentary majority, the largest for any party in a century. Another poll indicated that Sunak might become the first
British prime minister to lose his own seat
in a national election.

What are the legal and ethical implications?

Misconduct in public office is a criminal offence, and the Gambling Commission continues to lead the investigation into the alleged betting offences. The London Metropolitan Police force, after being contacted by the Gambling Commission, referred the matter to its Directorate of Professional Standards and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Also Read:
What do the various manifestos of the UK parties say? How do they compare ahead of the UK general election?

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for a full inquiry: “Rishi Sunak must call a Cabinet Office inquiry into what is shaping up to be yet another scandal at the heart of government. An inquiry is needed to understand who knew what and when.”

What is the impact on the Tories’ campaign?

The scandal has overshadowed the Conservative campaign, which has already faced several setbacks, including Sunak’s controversial early announcement of the election date and his premature departure from D-Day commemorations in France.

The Conservative Party’s efforts to narrow the polling gap with Labour have so far been unsuccessful, further complicated by the gambling allegations.

Also Read:
Who is Keir Starmer, the man standing between Rishi Sunak and 10 Downing Street?

The gambling scandal has added to the challenges facing the ruling arty, which is struggling to regain public trust and support ahead of the crucial 4 July election. The outcome of the investigations and the election itself will significantly impact the party’s future and Sunak’s leadership.

With inputs from agencies

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