Fifth Tory politician in election betting probe

Fifth Tory politician in election betting probe

Just nowBy David Deans, Political reporter, BBC Wales NewsBBCRussell George has been Conservative Member of the Senedd (MS) for Montgomeryshire since 2011

A Conservative politician in the Welsh Parliament is being investigated over a bet on the timing of the general election.

Russell George is the fifth Conservative to face inquiries by the Gambling Commission.

It comes on the same day the Conservatives withdrew their support for two general election candidates, including Mr George’s colleague Craig Williams, who is standing in the newly-named constituency of Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr.

Mr George, whose seat is Montgomeryshire, said he will co-operate fully with the commission, and has “stepped back” from the Senedd’s Conservative frontbench.

Meanwhile, a former Labour parliamentary candidate was suspended by his party after he said he made a “stupid error” in betting he would lose his bid to become an MP.

Labour and Plaid Cymru called for Mr George to be suspended from the Conservative Senedd group.

He is the second Welsh Conservative to leave the Welsh Tory frontbench in the last month, after Laura Anne Jones was stripped of her spokesperson role in an expenses row.

Mr Williams, who had been a parliamentary aide to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, was the first Tory to admit he had placed a bet on the timing of the election.

The BBC’s political editor Chris Mason reported that Mr George’s bet, placed online for a July election, was placed more than a week before the election was called and neither man was aware of the other’s bet.

It is not known how much Mr George bet or what the odds were.

Earlier on Tuesday Mr George had called on voters to back his colleague Mr Williams despite the decision by the Conservatives to withdraw the party’s support.

He said at the time: “It may seem old fashioned, but I believe in innocent until proven guilty.”

PACraig Williams has said he “committed an error of judgment, not an offence”

Mr George’s constituency was also represented by Mr Williams in Westminster before the dissolution of the UK parliament.

He had been the party’s spokesman for mid Wales on the Conservative frontbench.

In a statement issued after The Guardian broke the story, Mr George said: “Whilst I will cooperate fully with the Gambling Commission, it would not be appropriate to comment on this independent and confidential process.

“Doing so would only jeopardise and undermine the investigation. It is the Gambling Commission, not the media, that has the responsibility, powers and resources to properly investigate these matters and determine what, if any, action should be taken.

“I have stepped back from the shadow cabinet while the investigation is ongoing. I have done this as I do not wish to be an unnecessary distraction to their work.”

Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservative leader in the Senedd, said Mr George had informed him he had “received a letter from the Gambling Commission regarding bets on the timing of the general election”.

Mr Davies added: “All other members of the Welsh Conservative [Senedd] group have confirmed that they have not placed any bets.”

Welsh Labour campaign chair Jessica Morden said: “It took Rishi Sunak almost two weeks to take action on one of his Conservative candidates.

“How long will it take Andrew RT Davies to suspend Russell George?”

Plaid’s Mabon ap Gwynfor said: “You couldn’t make this up. Hours after backing dropped candidate Craig Williams after another betting scandal, Russell George is found to have done the exact same thing.

“He should have the whip withdrawn from the Welsh Conservative Senedd group at once.”

Earlier on Tuesday the Conservatives confirmed they had withdrawn support for Mr Williams and Laura Saunders, the candidate for Bristol North West.

Both will appear on ballot papers, but could become independent if elected, pending the result of an investigation.

Two members of Conservative staff have also taken leaves of absence from their roles after it emerged they were being looked into by the Gambling Commission.

In a video statement posted to X, Mr Williams said he remained committed to the election.

He said he had “committed an error of judgment, not an offence” adding: “I want to reiterate my apology directly to you.”

“I am fully co-operating with routine inquiries from the Gambling Commission and I intend to clear my name,” he said.

Last week, a spokesperson for Ms Saunders said she would be co-operating with the Gambling Commission and had nothing further to add.

You can find a full list of candidates for the Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr and Bristol North West constituencies on the BBC News website.

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