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Betting scandals and self–interest: the problem with politics

Betting scandals and self–interest: the problem with politics

Chine McDonald comments on recent gambling scandals as the General Election approaches. Can political parties clean up their act? 27/06/2024

A week out from the election and the two parties with any chance of being in government come next Friday are dealing with investigations into betting. There is something rotten at the heart of politics. The betting scandal will further damage trust in institutions and do little to change people’s minds about politicians being out for themselves. 

We’ve learned in recent days that the Gambling Commission is investigating bets placed on a July date for the election by at least five Conservative party officials and candidates, including its chief data officer Nick Mason, its director of campaigns Tony Lee, and his wife, Laura Saunders, who was running as a parliamentary candidate in Bristol North West. The Conservative party has now withdrawn support for her campaign, as well as that of Craig Williams, who apologised for his “error of judgment” in placing a bet on the timing of the election.  We also know that five police officers from the Metropolitan police are being investigated for alleged bets, including one who was a member of the Prime Minister’s protection detail. 

The issue of gambling is not confined to the Conservative party, of course. This week, Labour candidate Kevin Craig was suspended by the party amid a Gambling Commission probe looking into his having placed a bet against himself winning in his constituency. Meanwhile, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey admitted having had a flutter on election outcomes in the past, but made the distinction between this type of betting, and making bets based on insider knowledge, such as the date of an election.  

It will be a while before we know the scale of the scandal, but the Financial Times reported that on 21 May, there was a spike in the number of bets placed on a July election.  

The gambling scandal has confirmed what many of us feared: that for far too many of the nation’s politicians, this is all just a game, played by people fuelled by self–interest. 

Having worked in charity communications and PR for most of my career, I can remember on many occasions advising colleagues that before taking an action, they might want to ask whether it would pass the Daily Mail test. To stop and think: could what we as an organisation are doing, or what I as an individual am doing, be turned into a tabloid headline – and not a positive one? If there was any chance that it might, then best to steer clear of it. In the language of the King James Bible, the advice might have been translated as to: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”  

Now, morality cannot just be about what an action you take might look like to other people, but other people knowing what you do is a pretty helpful yardstick when judging whether an action is right or wrong. Acting as if what you do might at some point be brought into the light is a helpful guide to whether or not an action is morally right. Part of Christianity’s power lies in the confession of sins, a practice born out of the  recognition that we are fallible and that we do the wrong thing. But, at its heart, confession is about taking responsibility, not waiting  to be found out, and ideally  staying away from the wrongdoing – the sin – in the first place. Unfortunately, the Church itself – just like so many of the institutions that make up our common life – has too often failed in this; we all need to do better.  

As we go to the polls in a week’s time, there seems to be an atmosphere of disappointment in the air. The UK is exhausted; there is a collective sense that through the crises we have gone through – whether or not they have been within our government’s control – we have been profoundly let down. Trust in politics is at an all–time low. We are crying out not just for better policies, but for better politicians; for better people. People we can trust with our lives. People who would be willing to put us, the people, before their own interests. There is a clear desire for more integrity and less corruption. It feels like political scandals, cronyism and self–interest are at an all–time high. Much of the nation is still reeling from Partygate, the expenses scandal and more. That the politicians, and those around them, might have chosen to go ahead and serve their own self–interest suggests either that they feel the rules do not apply to them, or that they just never thought they would be found out. Or perhaps – even worse – they did not see anything wrong with exploiting their inside knowledge, or playing a game with political outcomes, for their own benefit. This is the most worrying of all – a culture that does not even recognise wrongdoing, let alone does its best to flee from any appearance of it. Gaby Hinsliff puts it well when she asks: Whose first instinct, as the end neared, would be to make a quick buck on the way out? It speaks to something profoundly wrong in our political culture: gain rather than gift, selfishness rather than solidarity, self–interest rather than service.  

On last weekend’s Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4, former Conservative MP Dominic Grieve said that the closest MPs get to a job description can be found in the prayer said at the start of parliament each day, which includes some words that might help all those who seek public office:  

“May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind.” 

Both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have made promises to the nation to clean up their parties. Let’s hope that both of them succeed – for the sake of us all.   


On Theos’ ‘Religion Counts’ series

This blog is part of a larger body of work including briefing papers and articles exploring the impact of religion on voting patterns in the UK.

The first briefing paper: Do the religious vote? which examines whether voters from different religions backgrounds are more or less likely to vote.

The second briefing paper: Who do the religious vote for? looks at data on party preference – which parties are people from various religious backgrounds likely to vote for?

The third briefing paper: Do the religious feel like they can make a differencewhich explores political efficacy, social trust, and political trust amongst religious participants.

The fourth briefing paper: Economic and Social Values which maps the economic and social attitudes of religious groups in Britain.  

The fifth briefing paper: What do the religious think about key election issues? which breaks down how religious people in Britain feel about the most important issues facing the UK.

The sixth briefing paper: National Identity and Scottish Independence explores what religious people think about national identity.

Learn more about our Religion Counts work here.

Could you help uncover the impact faith can make in this election year by giving to our Religion Counts election appeal?  


Image by Aidan Howe on Pixabay

Chine McDonald

Chine McDonald

Chine is Director of Theos. She was previously Head of Community Fundraising and Public Engagement at Christian Aid. She has 16 years’ experience in journalism, media and communications across faith, media and international development organisations.

Watch, listen to or read more from Chine McDonald

Posted 27 June 2024

Parliament, Politics, Religion Counts


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