23 Jun 2024

Sunak not suspending Tories accused in betting scandal is ‘bonkers’

Data Correspondent and Presenter

We spoke to political strategist Jo Tanner. She was a former public relations advisor to Boris Johnson.

We asked her that if she was advising Rishi Sunak, what would she tell him to do?

Jo Tanner: I think, first of all, I would be lining up anyone that really would have had any contact with him or senior members of his team about when the election date was going to be. And I’d be asking a very direct question of whether or not any of them had any knowledge, and secondly, did they do anything with that knowledge ie. did they put on a bet? And surely, if you are therefore a paid member of this campaign and you support what the Conservatives are trying to do, the most honourable thing you would do is answer that question truthfully, and then you would allow Rishi Sunak to say everybody that has been involved has been dealt with in some way, suspended or whatever. I mean, it’s effectively insider trading. If this was in a financial institution, people would be suspended immediately. It’s just bonkers, nothing’s happened.

Ciaran Jenkins: Well the police officer involved was suspended immediately, so what does it tell you that Rishi Sunak hasn’t suspended those candidates and officials in the Conservative Party who’ve been implicated, although some do deny wrongdoing?

Jo Tanner: I think that is the point in question, is that in most workplaces, if you are accused of something that is related to your work, and it is considered that it wouldn’t be acceptable for you to be continuing to work, you would be suspended. After D-Day, he made an apology the next day and said, ‘I got it wrong.’ Right? He acted quickly, and while it didn’t kill the story, it certainly contained it somewhat. I think a better explanation would have helped, perhaps. With this, it’s just letting it ramble on. I don’t see why he’s doing that.

Ciaran Jenkins: Michael Gove, the cabinet minister, has likened this betting scandal to Partygate and the suggestion is that it reinforces the idea for some voters that people within the Conservative government think there’s a set of rules for them, and a different set of rules for ordinary people. Do you buy that?

Jo Tanner: I think he has a point. And I think if you actually look at what some people are still angry about, they’re still angry about Partygate, and I think it just reinforces the fact that it’s part of a sort of extension of that administration. So I just don’t know why you wouldn’t try and draw a line somewhere.

Ciaran Jenkins: So this apparent deficit of trust, then, if that’s what it is, did it start with your old boss Boris Johnson?

Jo Tanner: I honestly don’t know. I think there have been a succession of individuals within Number 10 who perhaps have lost sight of the fact that you are there to serve, and it is a particularly privileged position to work in Number 10 and to work around that team. I don’t really know where the rot is, if that’s what it is. It’s ultimately that it does seem to be that judgements have not been, I guess, as smart as we would think they should be.

Ciaran Jenkins: The other headline that Rishi Sunak was waking up to this morning was that an aide to the home secretary had been recorded describing the flagship Rwanda policy as ‘crap’. How do you deal with that?

Jo Tanner: Not a great start. I think James Cleverly has been trying to put up an admirable defence. But again, it goes back to these questions. When people are asked questions, we’ve seen it with Keir Starmer being asked about ‘did you believe that Jeremy Corbyn would be a good prime minister?’ It’s going back to these questions that become quite challenging to answer. But it’s got to be better to really tackle this stuff head on, to put it to bed. You can say that the policy itself has been problematic. ‘It’s been very challenging. We’ve really struggled to get it through. Now if we’re re-elected, we will then see if it can actually work and do what we think it can do.’ But the idea of almost denying that people have said things they’ve said, it’s very shaky and potentially risky territory.

Ciaran Jenkins: You’ve got the D-Day debacle, you’ve got the betting scandal, and then you’ve got a government aide, describing the flagship immigration policy as ‘crap’. What do you think this actually says about the way the Conservative campaign is being run in this election?

Jo Tanner: It feels like there isn’t really anyone properly in control. And we do know that as a result of the betting scandal, there is no longer a campaign director in post who was the campaign director. So it does make you wonder what is going on behind the scenes. I feel sorry for a lot of the people that are involved in working on the campaign. Lots of people up and down the country, activists, as well as the candidates themselves, must be wondering what on earth is happening.