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Tory candidate says party will put ‘black mark’ against him for betting scandal criticism

Former Olympic rower and current Tory parliamentary candidate James Cracknell has claimed the Conservatives will put a “black mark” against his name for speaking out about the betting scandal engulfing the party.

The Gambling Commission, police and the Conservative Party itself are all understood to be looking into claims that several figures with links to the Tories or Number 10 placed bets on the date of the general election shortly before Rishi Sunak announced his plans last month.

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Cracknell described the conduct of those allegedly involved as “really disrespectful”, urging colleagues to “come forward” and “admit they made a mistake”.

The double gold medalist suggested that senior Tory figures would question whether he was a “team player” for voicing criticism.

He told ITV News: “People who make mistakes like this, placing bets on knowledge they have, they’re not only letting down the party, they are letting down 600 candidates, they are also letting down thousands of members who are doing things of their own back and in their own time.

“That’s just really disrespectful and I’m not prepared to have the people who are giving up their time for me, and the people I’m asking to vote for me disrespected.”

“Just come forward and say ‘look I’ve done it, this was a massive mistake’… That’s what everyone should do, whether it be issues in lockdown, partying and drinking, just own up straight away.”

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak speaks to journalist on the bus on June 21, 2024, near Rhyl, as part of a Conservative campaign event in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4. (Photo by Leon Neal / POOL / AFP) (Photo by LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak has said he is incredibly angry about the betting scandal (Photo: Leon Neal/ POOL/AFP)

Mr Cracknell, who is standing in Colchester, added: “I’m sure there will be people in Conservative Campaign Headquarters who will be putting a black mark against my name for speaking out because they’ll think,  ‘how can you do that as a team player?’ And at the same time, I would say if I had placed a bet knowing information, how could I be a team player if I didn’t own up to it?”

His comments follow revelations over the weekend that the Conservative Party’s chief data officer Nick Mason has taken a leave of absence amid claims he placed bets on the election date, along with campaigning director Tony Lee.

Mr Lee’s wife, Tory candidate Laura Saunders, and the Prime Minister’s former parliamentary aide, Craig Williams, are also under investigation by the Gambling Commission.

Mr Cracknell is contesting Colchester after the previous MP, Conservative Will Quince, decided to leave Parliament after nine years as its representative.

Colchester was held by the Liberal Democrats between 1997 and 2015, before Mr Quince won it for the Conservatives. In 2019, he secured a majority of more than 9,000 votes – but polls suggest Labour could be on course to win the seat.

Mr Cracknell has promised to be “a fresh voice” who “isn’t afraid to challenge, isn’t going to take a backward step, and that isn’t afraid to drive the Conservative Party, the right party, back to where it should be”.

Earlier on Monday, he  posted a video to his Facebook page in which he strongly criticised his own party, but insisted he still believed “the Conservative way is the best for the country”.

He said: “Two weeks out from the Olympics and if we are competing against the Conservative Party, my teammates and I would be saying they are a shower of shit.”

In an apparent reference to the gambling scandal engulfing the Tory campaign, he added: “And if one of my teammates got caught for cheating, they’d be dead to me.

“That abuse of trust is unforgiveable.”

Explaining why he was still campaigning despite his negative view of his own party, Mr Cracknell said: “I believe the Conservative way is the best for the country. Freedom to succeed, protecting our national security, and personal responsibility.

“If any party deserves to have the Union jack on its literature, it’s the Conservative Party, and if any candidate should have it on their shoulders, it’s me, because I’ve been there.”

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and other party leaders are on the campaign trail, and i‘s election live blog is the go-to place for everything on the general election.

All the main parties have launched their manifestos: read i‘s breakdown of all the pledges from the Tories, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Reform UK.

i has urged the parties to commit to its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto to improve our waterways. The Lib Dems became the first to back the campaign, followed by the Green Party. Keir Starmer called the campaign ‘really important’ but stopped short of throwing full support behind it.

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