Tory director of campaigning takes ‘leave of absence’ as election betting scandal grows

The Conservative Party’s director of campaigning has “taken a leave of absence” as the scandal over allegations that key figures used insider knowledge to bet on the date of the election.

The Independent has been told that Tony Lee took “a leave of absence” after it was discovered his wife Laura Saunders was being investigated for placing a bet on the general election. Both are now being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

It means that the Tory election campaign which was already on the ropes with Labour holding a massive 20 point lead is without its campaign director.

The revelation has thrown an already catastrophic Conservative campaign into complete crisis with allegations centring around Rishi Sunak’s inner circle.

Last week it was revealed that his closest parliamentary aide, Craig Williams, who was the prime minister’ parliamentary private secretary, was under investigation after “having a flutter” of £100 on the date of the election just three days before it was called by Mr Sunak.

Ms Saunders, like Mr Williams, is now under investigation by the Gambling Commission with one of his close protection police officers also facing inquiries over a bet they made on the election date.

In a move which seems to highlight the Tories haplessness during the campaign, the latest revelations over alleged insider betting comes after they launched a gambling themed attack advertisement on social media against Labour.

Unlike the two Tory candidates, the police officer has been suspended from duties.

Now it has emerged that Mr Lee, who would have been one of the few people to know the election date has been forced to step back from his duties.

While claims he has been suspended have not been confirmed, the Tories now enter the closing stages of the election without one of their key organisational figures.

This after polls yesterday appeared to confirm that the party is heading for the worst defeat in its electoral history with a potential wipeout at the polls.

Mr Lee is a shadowy figure in the backroom of the Tory operation but holds a key position in organising the campaign. His LinkedIn page appears to have been removed.

In a letter to Mr Sunak, Labour’s campaign director Pat McFadden has asked the prime minister how far the scandal among those around him goes.

He asked why if a police officer has been suspended and arrested the two candidates accused of the same thing are still allowed to stand for the Tories.

He said: “How far does it go? What will he do to those involved? And what does it say about today’s Tory party that once again their first instinct was to fill their boots?”

Earlier the Lib Dems called for a full inquiry into the scandal.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Rishi Sunak must find his backbone and suspend Laura Saunders from the Conservative party whilst this investigation is ongoing.

“It would be an utter disgrace if Conservative politicians were shown to be more focussed on turning a quick buck rather than the needs of the country.

“The Conservative party has proven itself utterly unfit for office. Voters are sick to the back teeth of this endless carousel of chaos, sleaze and scandal.

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