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Labour and Tory campaigns flounder as betting row deepens

BOTH major parties are looking like busted flushes, Britain’s top polling guru suggested today, as PM Rishi Sunak struggled to contain the Tory gambling row.

BBC elections guru John Curtice said that neither Tories nor Labour were having a “fruitful” campaign, with each having lost 4 per cent in the polls since the election was called a month ago.

That is clearly worse news for the Conservatives than Labour, since it leaves the gap between the two unchanged at 20 per cent, putting Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s shrivelling party in Commons landslide territory.

That prospect is reinforced by the scandal over insider betting by Tory candidates and senior officials, which Mr Sunak seems incapable of containing.

Former minister Tobias Ellwood conceded today that the party was certain to lose additional seats — “I have no doubt about it” — because of the controversy, which has seen the Gambling Commission launch a probe into whether four top Tories used prior knowledge of the election date to cash in.

Mr Ellwood, who is standing for re-election, said that the row was overshadowing the Tory election campaign and that “the public wants to see clearer, robust action.”

That did not look like it would be forthcoming, since Mr Sunak continues to resist demands that the two candidates — Laura Saunders in Bristol North-West and Craig Williams in Montgomery — should be suspended.

Instead, he deployed Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to tell the media that suspensions would “suggest that someone is guilty until they’re proven innocent.”

He also complained that Labour was trying to unduly influence the commission in its investigation, a charge dismissed by Sir Keir as “nonsense.”

The Prime Minister himself could only lamely state that he was “not aware of any other candidate that they are looking at” as rumours spread of more Tories in the know having tried to get in the money as well.

Sir Keir said that the investigation into the allegations was “designed for one purpose, which is to knock this in the long grass to the other side of the election.”

He added that an inquiry “would take half an hour. Who knew? Did you place a bet? That’s it.”

The episode, Sir Keir said, “goes to the heart of what the Tories have become when their first instinct in relation to a general election is not how to serve the country, it’s ‘how quickly can I get to the bookies and make some money?’”

For Tories hoping that Boris Johnson would ride to the rescue of their shambolic campaign there was further disappointment.

The former premier, who has not been seen electioneering, instead offered a joke at the Conservatives’ expense. 

He is reported to have told guests at an overcrowded revel he hosted that “there are many great parties without enough seats.”

And former Olympian James Cracknell, standing for the Tories in Colchester, went further, calling the party “a shower of shit” over the betting allegations.

Yet Labour is still struggling to gain any form of traction from the government’s travails and instead drifts downwards in the polls too.

Politics professor and author Robert Ford said that the combined vote of the two government parties “looks set to be the lowest ever in a universal franchise election.”

He added that there was a “silent surge” for smaller parties, while Tories and Labour are suffering “an unprecedented fracturing of the vote.”

And Prof Curtice pointed out that Nigel Farage’s Reform is now polling “just two points behind the Tories.”

Leading Tories were pouncing on Farage’s remarks about the need for talks in the Ukraine conflict to try and drive a wedge between Reform’s owner and his voting base.

The Prime Minister said that Farage’s position on Ukraine “plays into Putin’s hands” and was “dangerous for Britain’s security.”

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