Sunak finally axes support for Tory betting suspects now he's sure to face accusations of weak leadership

25 June 2024, 12:03

Sunak finally axes support for Tory betting suspects now he's sure to face accusations of weak leadership
Sunak finally axes support for Tory betting suspects now he's sure to face accusations of weak leadership. Picture: LBC/Getty
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

Rishi Sunak has finally pulled support for two Tory candidates suspected of making bets in relation to the date of the election.

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Thirteen days after the allegations first came to light about one candidate - Craig Williams - the Tories have now said they won't support them.

The question on everyone's lips now is - why the wait?

Pressure has been building for days for the PM to take action, especially after Williams admitted he'd made bet and said it had been an error.

Laura Saunders, the other candidate in question, has not commented herself.

But a statement from her solicitors has said she will be cooperating with the probe and it was inappropriate to conduct an investigation by the media, suggesting the BBC may have breached her privacy rights.

Sunak last night promised that anyone found guilty would face the full force of the law - and be booted out of the party.

So far the latter hasn't happened yet - and will likely be a decision for after the final investigations are complete.

There's no news yet either on whether the two Tory officials will be permanently kicked out of their jobs - Nick Mason and Tony Lee are taking leaves of absence.

But the party and leadership clearly feels like the flak is too much to stand in the final days of this campaign.

I'm told this decision is as a result of internal Tory inquiries into the details of Williams and Saunders, suggesting they've found concrete proof from both of them about the allegations, enough to make them confident to suspend.

The pressure from top Tories including Steve Baker and Sir Robert Buckland to suspend them will also have played a part.

It means the party will pull resources to campaign from them in their seats - like leafleting and rallies.

But their names will still appear on the ballot paper on July 4 as it's too late for them to be removed.

Make no mistake, this would have been a difficult call for Sunak - Williams is one of his closest allies and confidants.

His seat was already on a knife edge and will be even trickier to win now.

The best way for parties to react to these sorts of allegations is quick action to neutralise attacks from opponents and get ahead of the game.

The alternative strategy is to stick like glue to the promise of a review or independent investigation with a decision taken out of their hands entirely.

To do the latter for thirteen days and then revert to the former is the worst of both worlds.

Sunak will be accused of weak leadership by failing to act quickly enough, after a week and a half of torrid headlines which have dogged the latter half of the campaign.

And all while the threat of more names to come hangs over the final days before July 4 - where the PM and the other Tories involved will face their fates.