Election campaign day 34: Tories pull support for ‘gamblegate’ candidates

The Conservatives have withdrawn support from two candidates implicated in the investigation into betting on the timing of the General Election.

– Gamblegate blues

And so it rumbles on. With little over a week to polling day, the “gamblegate” affair – as the opposition parties are now calling it – continues to dominate the election headlines.

The Met Police said it has now received information from the Gambling Commission – which is investigating bets placed on the timing of the election – concerning five more of its officers.

It follows the arrest earlier this month of a member of Rishi Sunak’s protection team on suspicion of misconduct in a public office.

The New Scotland Yard sign outside the Metropolitan Police headquarters
The Met has received information from the Gambling Commission concerning five more of its officers (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Earlier, the Conservatives attempted to draw a line under the matter, withdrawing support for the two Tory candidates caught up in the allegations over bets placed in the days before the Prime Minister announced he was calling an election.

Because nominations have closed, Craig Williams, who was Mr Sunak’s parliamentary aide, and Laura Saunders, who is standing Bristol North West, will remain on the ballot paper but will no longer enjoy the backing of the party.

In response, Mr Williams admitted making an “error of judgment” but denied committing any offence, saying he was determined to clear his name.

The move came amid growing exasperation among other Tories that the failure of the leadership to take decisive action was damaging their prospects at the ballot box.

On Monday, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker publicly called on Mr Sunak to ring up those involved and ask them directly if they had bet on the date of the election, and to suspend them if the answer was “yes”.

“The Prime Minister would have to answer why he hasn’t done it,” Mr Baker said, echoing the frustration of other Tory candidates.

Two senior party officials – including Ms Saunders’ husband – have already stepped back from their duties while the Gambling Commission continues to investigate, and there will be concern among Tories that it is not over yet.

– Picture of the day

Idris Elba, hand raised, standing alongside Sir Keir Starmer
Idris Elba and Sir Keir Starmer meeting families of knife crime victims at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– Join the queue

It is not just Labour supporters, it would seem, who are hoping to see a new occupant in No 10 after July 4.

Home Secretary James Cleverly claimed would-be migrants are “queuing up in Calais” ready to attempt the perilous Channel crossing in anticipation that a Labour government will scrap the Tories’ plans to deport them to Rwanda.

He said that it was clear from comments made by some of those gathered on shores of northern France to The Daily Telegraph that there was a “cohort of people” just waiting for Rwanda to be “taken off the table”.

James Cleverly and Yvette Cooper, both wearing headphones and sitting in front of microphones, in the  LBC studio
James Cleverly and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper take part in a live immigration debate on LBC (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“We know that this is a digitally enabled criminal enterprise,” he said during an LBC radio debate with his Labour opposite number, Yvette Cooper.

“The people smugglers and the people that seek to be smuggled pay very, very close attention to a whole range of things.”

That brought a brisk retort from Ms Cooper who accused him of “clutching at vox pop straws”.

“He should be taking responsibility for the facts, which is that the boat crossings have reached a record high this spring, and since Rishi Sunak promised he would stop them last year, the problems are getting worse,” she said.

– Quote of the day

– Tories accuse Starmer on self ID

With Labour’s opinion poll lead showing no sign of weakening, the Tories have opened up a new line of attack, accusing Sir Keir Starmer of planning to introduce self-identification for trans people “by the back door”.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins sought to exploit Labour’s difficulties on the issue, calling a press conference to claim the the party was planning to “dilute women’s rights further”.

It comes after the Harry Potter author and one-time Labour backer JK Rowling complained that Sir Keir had “abandoned” women and that she would now “struggle” to support them.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins hoolding a disposable coffee cup
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has accused Labour of planning to introduce self-ID ‘by the backdoor’ (Lucy North/PA)

The Labour leader has sought to clarify his position, saying he agreed with Sir Tony Blair that “biologically, a woman is with a vagina and a man is with a penis”.

Ms Atkins said: “Rather than listening to women in his own party, (he) chooses to quote his predecessor Tony Blair, a man, when it comes to understanding what a woman is.”

In response, Sir Keir said Labour had no plans to introduce self ID and would be “protective of women’s spaces”.

“I think that this is a debate that needs to be conducted with the respect that it deserves, and then in that way, we can make some real progress,” he added.

– Atkins opens door to leadership bid

On Monday it was Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch who was not talking about her leadership ambitions, should Mr Sunak be on the way out after July 4.

Now Ms Atkins has become the latest senior Tory to insist she is simply focused on the General Election, while pointedly not ruling out a tilt at the leadership should the vacancy arise.

“I’m not entertaining any questions about my leadership. Come on,” she said in response to suggestions from reporters that her press conference on Labour’s trans policies was really positioning in any battle for the Tory crown.

“I want to campaign at the moment.”

– Measuring the curtains

Opposition leaders scenting an election victory are always wary of being seen “measuring the curtains” before a vote has been cast.

Sir Keir however has admitted that his two teenage children are now nervously contemplating the prospect of a move from their north London home to the unfamiliar environs of No 10.

Sir Keir Starmer with Idris Elba standing behind him
Sir Keir Starmer has said his children are worried about the prospect of moving into No 10 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“They are worried, if I’m honest. They are worried about it, because, I think any parent would understand this, if you are a teenage child you don’t want things to change,” he told ITV’s This Morning.

“You’ve got things set up at home exactly as you want them, you’ve got your friends, you’ve got your routines and you’ve got your first little bits of independence, what you do after school.”

The Labour leader suggested they could respond by “ramping up” their campaign for a family dog to compensate.

Staff in No 10 will no doubt be hoping any new canine arrival is better behaved than Dilyn, Boris Johnson’s notoriously unruly Jack Russell terrier.

– Social media moment

Rishi Sunak with England players superimposed over him
Rishi Sunak choosing his favourite players (Screengrab/PA)

The Conservatives leaned into Euros fever by quizzing Rishi Sunak in a TikTok on his preferred players ahead of the England match against Slovenia on Tuesday evening.

Mr Sunak was presented with two players and asked to pick his preferred star, with former Southampton player Matt Le Tissier proving a favourite of the Sotonian prime minister, choosing him over players such as Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard.

Jude Bellingham was eventually picked as the favoured player over Le Tissier, before Mr Sunak stated his preference for David Beckham until he chose Harry Kane over him.

– What the polls say

Three opinion polls have been published in the past 24 hours, all of which show Labour sustaining a large lead over the Conservatives with Reform UK catching up with or overtaking the Tories.

A line chart showing the seven-day rolling average for political parties in opinion polls from February 25 to June 25, with the final point showing Labour on 41%, Conservatives 20%, Reform 17%, Lib Dems 11% and Green 6%. Source: PA graphic
(PA Graphics)

More in Common gives Labour a 16 percentage-point lead over the Tories, Redfield & Wilton puts Labour 23 points in front of Reform with the Conservatives one point behind, while Deltapoll has Labour 24 points ahead of the Tories.

An average of all polls with survey work completed during the seven days to June 25 puts Labour on 41%, 21 points ahead of the Conservatives on 20%, followed by Reform on 17%, the Lib Dems on 11% and the Greens on 6%.

– What’s happening tomorrow

The BBC stages the second and final head-to-head TV debate between Mr Sunak and Sir Keir.