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Just how big is the betting scandal? 

Welcome to Friday’s Early Edition from i.

It was always a gamble, Rishi Sunak’s decision to hold a snap election in the summer. The front page headlines said it themselves: ‘Sunak gambles on snap poll’, ‘Sunak’s big gamble’ and ‘Sunak bets the house’. But that word is – in a very literal sense – threatening to overshadow the election, with the sensational revelations that a string of people with links to the Conservatives or No.10 are being investigated for alleged bets in relation to the timing of the vote. Last week, it emerged that one of Sunak’s aides and a Conservative candidate was alleged to have placed a £100 bet on a July election just three days before the PM announced the vote. Labour called the story “utterly extraordinary”. But that was just the beginning. Now four people, including the director of campaigning, are being looked into over allegations they were improperly exploiting bookmakers. As if that were not enough, yesterday the Tories posted (and then deleted) with perfect comedy timing a social media advert featuring a roulette wheel with the tag line “if you bet on Labour you can never win”. The scandal may be a satire writer’s dream, but just how significant it is in terms of the election? We’ll take a look, after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

Jeremy Hunt said that Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet was “not necessarily a meritocracy” in a new leaked recording of the Chancellor appearing to distance himself from the Tory party’s record, i can reveal. Mr Hunt told a private meeting of Oxford University Conservative Association that the Prime Minister has to choose people “on the basis of their loyalty as well as ability.”

Tory insiders have suggested bleak polling and a “breakdown in central authority” is leading to an “every man for himself” strategy as scant resources are diverted from marginal constituencies to shore up heartland seats once considered “safe”. The shift to a more defensive strategy comes after three separate polls predicted the party is on course to win its lowest number of seats in history.

The Conservatives have slumped to a record low in a new opinion poll which shows the governing party neck and neck with a surging Reform UK. The BMG Research survey for i is the latest to suggest that Sir Keir Starmer is on track for a Blair-style landslide victory at the general election in two weeks’ time.

A former Conservative minister who quit in protest at the Government’s handling of the climate crisis has revealed he will vote Labour at the upcoming general election. Chris Skidmore, the UK’s ex-energy minister, said he could not back the Tories and accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of siding with “climate deniers.”

Three life-changing cystic fibrosis drugs will be made more widely available on the NHS in England, the health watchdog has confirmed. The green light for the treatments Kaftrio, Symkevi and Orkambi follows years of campaigning by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and patients.

Three questions over the betting scandal:

Who is being investigated? Craig Williams one of Rishi Sunak’s closest parliamentary aides and the Conservative candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, last week admitted to placing a bet on when the poll would take place “some weeks ago”. He said at the time: “This has resulted in some routine inquiries and I confirm I will fully cooperate with these. I don’t want it to be a distraction from the campaign. I should have thought through how it looks.” His bet, believed to have been placed on 19 May, three days before Mr Sunak publicly called the election, could have led to a payout of £500 based on 5/1 odds. The PM said last week the revelation was “very disappointing news and you will have seen Craig Williams say that it was a huge error of judgment.” Earlier this week it then emerged that a police officer working as part of Rishi Sunak’s protection team was arrested following an investigation into alleged bets. The suspect is a member of the Met’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, which provides personal protection to political VIPs and members of the Royal Family. Then yesterday it emerged that Conservative candidate Laura Saunders was subject to a probe by the Gambling Comission along with her husband, Tory director of campaigning Tony Lee. It is not known when either individual placed a bet or for how much money. Ms Saunders said via solicitors that she “will be co-operating with the Gambling Commission” but claimed her privacy was being infringed by media reports. During the Question Time debate last night, Mr Sunak said he was “incredibly angry – incredibly angry – to learn of these allegations.It’s a really serious matter. It’s right that they’re being investigated properly by the relevant law enforcement authorities, including … a criminal investigation by the police. I want to be crystal clear that if anyone has broken the rules, they should face the full force of the law.” 

Could there be more? According to analysis by the FT, there was an “unusual burst of bets” on a July election just before Sunak’s announcement. The paper said the bets included several thousand pounds wagered on the day before the 22 May announcement. Officials in Tory campaign headquarters are not aware of any further individuals implicated, but they cannot definitively rule out that more cases will emerge, i understands. A source close to CCHQ suggested that there could be more people implicated in the scandal, saying: “The story has not gone down well. It does feel like there may be more, judging by their response.” Read more, here.  

Will it impact the election? The latest details have drawn severe words of scorn from across the political divide. Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told the News Agents podcast it was “people being incredibly stupid and venal”. He said: “First of all, what the hell are they doing betting anyway on an election, they’re meant to fight it. This is a vocation, you need to behave like it’s a vocation and your job is to try and get your party back into government and not to play games with it. So it is unacceptable, and whatever happens to them wouldn’t be hard enough in my book”. But David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said he believes the allegations were “fun to write about” but do not amount to “substantive issues”. The Times quoted him as saying: “When you talk to people on the doorstep, those raise those flashpoints very rarely. They raise cost of living, job prospects, their kids’ education.” One ex-minister and current candidate described those who had placed bets as “idiots”, while another said it was “ridiculous”. A Tory strategist told i the row was “just more shit”, adding: “I doubt it cuts through much to the doorstep but it adds to the stench.” Columnist Sebastian Payne believes that the allegations are unlikely to have an impact at the ballot box, but they might create another kind of damage. He writes: “The danger for the Conservatives is that the scandal has played into a much wider problem about trust and morality. If 4 July goes as the opinion polls currently suggest and a big Labour majority ensues, the Conservative Party’s task to rebuild will be tougher than perhaps after the 1997 landslide. Before it can even gain a hearing about its policies and ideas once again, it will have to work to regain voter trust.” Read his full piece here.  

Rishi Sunak during a BBC Question Time Leaders’ Special in York (Photo: Stefan Rousseau/Reuters)

 Around the world

Mark Rutte, the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister who is set to become the next Nato Secretary-General, has two nicknames. One, “Teflon Mark”, refers to his talent for surviving scandals and crises that would sink lesser politicians. The other, more recent, is the “Trump whisperer”, from his rare ability to cajole the former US president.

The US has banned Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky from providing its popular antivirus products over national security concerns. The announcement came after a lengthy investigation found Kaspersky’s “continued operations in the United States presented a national security risk due to the Russian government’s offensive cyber capabilities and capacity to influence or direct Kaspersky’s operations”.

Actor Donald Sutherland, best known for his role in the Hunger Games, has died aged 88. His son, Keifer Sutherland, described him as “one of the most important actors in the history of film”. He said: “Never daunted by a role, good, bad or ugly. He loved what he did and did what he loved, and one can never ask for more than that. A life well lived.”

Shipping industry authorities have called for urgent action in the Red Sea as video showed the moment a Houthi drone boat hit a Greek-owned commercial ship, killing a sailor and causing it to sink. The coal-carrying vessel was struck by a missile and an explosive-laden remote-controlled boat last Wednesday, and began taking on water, sources told Reuters.

Wild chimpanzees eat plants that have pain-relieving and anti-bacterial properties to heal themselves, according to scientists. They described their “detective work” in the forests of Uganda – observing animals that appeared injured or sick to work out whether they were self-medicating with plants.

 Watch out for…

 London, where Taylor Swift is not only bringing her blockbuster Eras tour but also playing more shows in the city than any other in the world. Her fans are predicted to boost the capital’s economy by £300m. 

 Thoughts for the day

Labour’s hard talk on saving Britain’s pubs leaves a bitter taste. Labour must put pressure on the monolithic pub chains to do their bit to preserve this valuable feature of our cultural landscape, writes Simon Kelner.

Why I’m sharing every horrid symptom of the perimenopause with my kids. My repetition is working, reveals Julie Cook.

Letting your child skip sports day? You’re failing them. Displeasure and disgruntlement are something that kids will come across as they make their way through life, advises Kirsty Ketley.

Ensuring that a child understands that taking a loss doesn’t make them a loser (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

 Culture Break

Chloe Bailey: Making The Exorcism, I thought, ‘forgive me, God’. The elder half of Chloe x Halle says she is growing into her confidence “on the inside and out”.

Singer, producer and actress Chloe Bailey (Photo: Corey Nickols/Getty/IMDb)

 The Big Read

The fortunes set to be made by ex-MPs as they slot straight into top jobs. Dozens of MPs and ministers are standing down and seeking new roles – from Strictly to private equity. But campaigners say conflict-of-interest rules need reform, Cahal Milmo reports.

More than 130 MPs and ministers are quitting Parliament ahead of 4 July. Some will head for lucrative new careers while others will continue their work with good causes or previous professions


Even Southgate’s biggest fans are losing faith in this England team. Social media stuck the boot in long ago, but matchgoing fans backed Southgate all the way – after his approach against Denmark, that changed, writes Daniel Storey.

Southgate is not inspiring confidence (Photo: AP)

 Something to brighten your day

Are you fit for your age? Nine simple tests to find out. Try these tests – from balance to aerobic fitness, personal trainers share different ways to measure your health, and how to improve it.

It is important to stay fit whatever age you are (Photo: pidjoe/Getty/E+/ruurd dankloff)

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