The Tory Betting Scandal Presented Rishi Sunak With An Opportunity To Look Strong - He Blew It

Voters already think the PM is weak and the controversy has only reinforced that opinion.
Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak
Leon Neal via Getty Images

They say that bad things come in threes. If only Rishi Sunak was that lucky.

Ever since he called the election on May 22, the prime minister has been hit by a litany of misfortune - some self-inflicted - which has completely derailed the Tories’ election campaign.

The latest - and possibly most damaging - one is the revelation that senior Tories close to the prime minister are accused of placing bets on the date of the election.

Two of them are Conservative candidates, one of whom - former Sunak parliamentary aide Craig Williams - has admitted he did it.

The Tories’ chief data officer, Nick Mason, and campaign director Tony Lee have each taken a “leave of absence” after also being accused.

The other alleged punter we currently know about is one of the PM’s close protection officers, or at least he was until he was suspended from duty by the Metropolitan Police.

It is the force’s different approach to disciplinary matters which have led to Sunak facing fresh accusations that he is weak, a label already attached to the prime minister by 61% of the public.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth said: “Sunak promised integrity, professionalism and accountability, instead his weakness means he has overseen the same levels of sleaze and scandal that have come to epitomise the last 14 years of Tory government.

“Rishi Sunak needs to take immediate action against all implicated.”

Home secretary James Cleverly endured a tough grilling from Trevor Phillips on Sky News this morning over the PM’s apparent inaction.

“Why doesn’t he, like any other employer might do in this situation, call in the alleged offenders, ask them ‘did you place a bet or did you not place a bet’ and if the answer is yes, sack them?” Phillips asked.

After Cleverly claimed No.10′s hands are tied while the Gambling Commission investigates, Phillips told him: “No, no, no - he’s the prime minister. These people work for him. He can do whatever he wants.

“If it were you, he’d say ‘James, tell me the truth. Did you or did you not?’. And you, being an honest man, would say yes or no.”

The minister said: “I don’t necessarily know the process in detail, but the Gambling Commission is the appropriate body for this. They have said they’re investigating and they’ve also said it is inappropriate for us to comment on what is a live investigation.”

But Phillips hit back: “He’s the prime minister - he doesn’t get told what to do by the Gambling Commission.”

For his part, Sunak has said the affair has left him “very angry” and has pledged that any Tories found guilty will be booted out of the party.

However, regardless of the reason for Sunak’s unwillingness to take action now, the impression it has given is of a prime minister at the mercy of events rather than taking charge of them.

With less than two weeks to go until election day, the Tory betting scandal has merely confirmed their impression of a PM who can’t take the big decisions, which is one of many reasons why time is fast running out on his period in office.


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