The seedy betting scandal looks like it will be the dying gasp of a Tory election campaign marred by ineptitude and dysfunction. Such has been the scale of humiliation for the Tories during the last few weeks, that their own candidate described what everyone is thinking. A ‘shower of shit,’ James Cracknell, ex-Olympian rower and Conservative candidate for Colchester, declared in a campaign video.

But campaigning hasn’t exactly been glitch-free for the other parties either. Think tanks are still accusing both the Tories and Labour of being in denial about their spending plans. The Lib Dems leader is still hurling himself into the latest wild stunt whenever a camera crew is present. While latecomer Nigel Farage caused deep offence by making the incendiary claim that the West provoked the war in Ukraine.

Here are some of the latest fibs, fiascos, and blunders as the campaigning hits the home stretch.

More Tory lies exposed

Becoming ever more desperate, the Tories pushed out a series of video ads on Facebook, which were made to look like emergency alerts but were actually blatant lies about Labour. They claimed that Keir Starmer would force pay-per-mile driving, that Angela Rayner would end Britain’s nuclear deterrent, that Starmer would force a local ULEZ near everyone, and Labour would flatten the green belt.

To translate into the true version, Labour has no plans to implement pay-per-mile driving, Anger Rayner has repeatedly stated that she has no intention of ending the country’s nuclear deterrent, Starmer has repeatedly said that Labour is “not planning to flatten the green belt,” and has not said that ULEZ will be rolled out to all areas, which in any case is a decision made locally.

It really does make you wonder who the Tories think is buying into this nonsense when so many people now recognise the party for what it is. As one X user commented in response to the ads: “Pathetic desperate attempt to hang on to power at any cost by a failed and corrupt government.”

Tories’ pitch to pensioners also misleading

In a desperate plea to pensioners, another highly promoted campaign video pushed out by the Conservatives on Facebook asks: “Remember when Labour increased the state pension by only 75p?” It then contrasts this with the £3,700 increase since the Tories came into power in 2010. The video ends with the statement: “Pensioners will always be better off with the Conservatives – don’t risk it all with Labour’s retirement tax.” But BBC Verify analysis of the ad library data of Facebook’s parent company Meta confirms that the advert is misleading. This is because the adverts are comparing an increase in the weekly value of the basic state pension in a single year under the previous Labour government with an increase in the annual basic state pension under the Tories over 14 years, and, consequently, the gap is not as great as the advert suggests.

BBC Verify also rips apart the video’s ‘retirement tax’ claim for misleadingly implying Labour is imposing an additional tax. However, Labour has not yet said whether they will match the Conservatives’ “Triple Lock Plus” policy, which raises the tax-free personal allowance for pensioners only to £13,710 by 2027 – 8.

The analysis also points to separate research by former Lib Dem pensions minister Steve Webb, which suggests that even if the Triple Lock Plus policy was introduced, around 2.5m pensioners would still be paying income tax on their state pensions. This is because many people receive additional state pension payments due to their participation in the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS).

The gambling saga escalates

He was meant to be the leader who would clean up the Tory party and rid it of scandal and disgrace. But instead, the headlines during Sunak’s last weeks of campaigning have been focused on yet another sleaze scandal.

Even Michael Gove, his long-standing ally, who once said Rishi Sunak “has the plan our country needs,” didn’t help matters by comparing the controversy to Partygate. Then again, Gove has never been one for loyalty, having a reputation for enjoying a good conspiracy to exploit in order to advance his own career. Perhaps that’s one reason why he survived for so long.

Under growing pressure to withdraw support for candidates and staff accused of placing a bet on the election date just three days before it was announced, the Tory party announced it had withdrawn its support for Craig Williams and Laura Saunders who are being investigated by the Gambling Commission over the alleged bets. A total of five Tory politicians and staffers are being investigated over allegations they placed bets on the date of the election.

Gillian Keegan claims betting scandal “doesn’t cut through” with voters

As the scandal escalated, the poor blighter tasked with doing the media rounds was in for a rocky ride. Education minister Gillian Keegan was given the honour – perhaps not the best choice. In an interview on Sky News, Keegan claimed that the betting scandal “doesn’t cut through” with voters.

The claim could not be further from the truth, as a YouGov poll found that the scandal came out top among Britons as the most influential news story at the time.

And viewers were not impressed. “Keegan hasn’t met anyone who is talking about the betting scandal, she needs to get out more,” was one comment online.

Labour candidate suspended for betting against himself

Labour’s HQ must have been left with their heads in their hands after being informed by the Gambling Commission that candidate Kevin Craig had placed a bet, not on the election date, but that he would lose his bid to become MP. Keen to act more swiftly than the Conservatives did with their candidates under investigation, Labour suspended Craig immediately. The former parliamentary candidate admitted that he had made a “stupid error” in betting he would lose the race for the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich seat. Of course, it has to be said that however daft, a bet on yourself to lose is not the same as using insider information to obtain a wager advantage. Whether the distinction will cut through to voters is another matter and tends to add to that ever-popular ‘they are all the same’ narrative.

Starmer faces backlash over Bangladeshi migrant comments

The Labour leader faced a backlash from his own party after he singled out Bangladesh as a country where illegal migrants are not being deported quickly enough. Speaking about people who come to the UK illegally earlier this week, Starmer told the Sun: “I’ll make sure we got planes going off…back to the countries where people came from.”

He then highlighted Bangladesh as an example, saying “At the moment people coming from countries like Bangladesh are not being removed.” The comments attracted criticism from members of the Bangladeshi community, as well as Labour Party members. Labour’s Stepney Green Councillor Sabina Akhtar resigned over the issue. Starmer said, “he wasn’t intending to cause any concern or offence.”

Reform activist filmed making racist comments

It has been a bad week for Farage and Reform UK with footage emerging of members making homophobic and racist remarks. Andrew Parker, a Reform activist who was canvassing in Clacton-on-Sea where Farage is standing, was secretly filmed making extremely racist comments about Rishi Sunak. He also described Islam as ‘a cult’ and suggested asylum seekers should be shot. The filming was part of an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News. The channel also secretly filmed George Jones, a longtime party activist who organises events for Farage, making homophobic comments, calling the Pride flag “degenerate” and LGBT people “nonces.” Leslie Lilley, who is running for the party in Southend East and Rochford, was exposed saying he would ‘slaughter’ migrants arriving on small boats and have their families ‘taken out’.

Farage denounced the “appalling sentiments” and insisted they were not representative of Reform’s policies or his own views. But during the final leaders’ special of this election campaign, he failed to answer repeated questions about why Reform candidates who made offensive comments were still standing in his party.

Farage accused of ‘cuddling up to the Kremlin’

The scandal involving the Reform activists followed a colossal misstep by Farage this week, without the help of his party.

During a Panorama interview, Farage was asked by Nick Robinson about his past comments on Vladimir Putin.

“I said I disliked him as a person, but I admired him as a political operator because he’s managed to take control of running Russia,” Farage replied.

He said it had been “obvious” to him for many years “that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man a reason to his Russian people to say, ‘They’re coming for us again’ and to go to war.”

Pressed further, Farage added: “We provoked this war. It’s, you know, of course it’s his fault – he’s used what we’ve done as an excuse.”

The comments ignited widespread condemnation. Sunak said the remarks were “completely wrong and only plays into Putin’s hands.” Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey said the comments made the Reform UK leader “unfit for any political office in our country, let alone leading a serious party in Parliament.”

The SNP’s Brendan O’Hara said: “In defending the indefensible, Farage has once again shown how out of touch his views are with voters in Scotland.”

Boris Johnson, whose support for Ukraine during his beleaguered premiership seemed to offer him some sort of political respite, joined the criticism, accusing Farage of ‘Kremlin propaganda.’

While the comments attracted criticism from across the political spectrum in Britain, they were praised by Russian state media which said the Reform leader had “refused to hide the truth” about what Moscow calls the “special military operation in Ukraine.”

Support for Reform drops

Unlike the Kremlin-controlled media, UK voters were not impressed by Farage’s remarks, something that is likely to affect the Clacton-on-Sea candidate more than any criticism from UK politicians.

Following the comments, three separate opinion polls showed that support for Reform has fallen. One poll found that the right-wing party was down three points, compared to its previous poll. A new Savanta poll showed it was down by two, and a third poll found Farage’s party had dropped a point to 15 percent.

Gloves off in Nottingham

Needless to say, the betting furore was raised during the final TV debate between Sunak and Starmer that took place in Nottingham and was aired on the BBC on Wednesday. The two leaders clashed over their responses to the scandal. Attacking the culture at the top of the Conservative Party, Starmer said the controversy showed the “wrong instinct,” and typical of the cavalier attitude to rules which had been the hallmark of the Tory government. Hitting back, Sunak revisited the £2,000 tax rise per household claim, even though the UK statistics watchdog issued the Tories with a warning about it.

On immigration, Starmer accused Sunak of being the ‘most liberal’ prime minister the UK has ever had on migration and repeated his arguments that he wanted to ‘smash the people smuggling gangs’ and speed up the processing of asylum applicants in Britain. In response, Sunak accused Starmer of wanting to surrender Britain’s borders.  

Fact-checking scam

The following day it emerged that the Tories had run a fake fact-check scam during the BBC debate.  In a bid to mislead viewers into thinking it is a fact-checking service when it is a campaigning account, the party’s account on X was rebranded to “Tax Check UK.”

The scam did not go unnoticed. “There is no moral bar too low for them,” said TV personality Carol Vorderman.

The angry spats between Starmer and Sunak were not well received among viewers either. Former Green MP Caroline Lucas described a “totally dehumanising debate about refugees and asylum seekers” with “two men trying to outdo each other with cruelty to some of most vulnerable people.”

Or as one member of the audience put it in a comment that has received wide media attention, ‘Is this really the best our country can do by way of candidates to be prime minister?’

Our prime minister and what looks likely to be our next prime minister, bickering like schoolboys in a playground in the final TV debate, epitomises six weeks of general election campaigning marked by intense backbiting and misleading messaging. The saddest part perhaps, is that we might wake up to a decisive Labour victory on July 5th, but it will be a landslide built on widespread dissatisfaction and anger towards the Conservative Party. Keir Starmer will have to work hard to restore trust in politicians among a disillusioned and frustrated public. While he looks set to secure a majority large enough to carry him through five years, the country desperately needs a two-term Labour government and that is a tougher call.

Right-Wing Media Watch – Sun accuses BBC of ‘working class’ prejudice for axing racing tips, forgetting ‘bet gate’ could deliver the knockout blow for Tories

Believing its coverage is biased to the left, the political and media right has long held the BBC in contempt. Writing in the Sun in 2022, Douglas Murray, associate editor to the right’s holy bible, the Spectator, blithely referred to “the BBC and other left-wing media” that criticised Home Secretary Suella Braverman for describing immigrants crossing the Channel as an “invasion.” He did not feel compelled to back up or justify his claim with evidence or explanation.

Rod Liddle, Murray’s fellow associate editor of the Spectator, barked similar baseless complaints. Writing in the Times in 2023, he said the BBC’s “palpable” bias shines through almost every day.”

Mick Hume, whose long-standing career in journalism has involved writing for virtually all the conservative publications, including being launch editor of the right-wing online magazine Spiked, argued in a Daily Mail column this year that while “popular Conservative-minded newspapers such as the Daily Mail must be policed, in print and online,” the “liberal BBC could be left unmolested to spread its prejudices across the internet.”

This week, the Sun exemplified why exactly so-called “popular Conservative newspapers” need to be policed, but, quite frankly, aren’t policed enough.

Colin Roberston, head of features at the Sun, wrote an opinion piece that strongly objected to the BBC’s recent axing of its daily horse racing tips on Radio 4.

Entitled: “The BBC has a major problem with working class – it doesn’t know who they are and axing racing tips just proves that,” the author argues that the decision “reeks of snobbery.”

“What this is really about is a pastime enjoyed by the working classes being downgraded by a BBC that is supposed to be all things to all people,” writes Robertson.

You wouldn’t know from any of this that the tips section is a tiny fragment of a three-minute sports slot on the Today programme, or that the BBC now has many more sports to cover than in the days when the tips piece originated.
Wouldn’t a brave decision against the curse of gambling, which, incidentally, is more likely to be inflicted on people from poorer areas, be a more fitting appraisal of the BBC’s decision?

Even more so perhaps, when the gambling watchdog is investigating several politicians for allegedly placing a suspicious bet on the general election date, meaning betting is currently a politically sensitive subject.

At a time when ‘gamble gate’ revelations are overshadowing Rishi Sunak’s campaign, you would think that the national newspapers that support the Conservatives would show a bit more tact before defending the very thing that could deliver the final blow and sink them.

Then again, it is the Sun, so maybe not.

Smear of the Week: Tories’ migrant boat attack ad released on World Refugee Day described as “abhorrent”

June 20 marked World Refugee Day, an annual international day designated by the United Nations to celebrate and honour the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict and persecution.

But rather than marking the day with respect and setting out and advocating their approach to refugee and asylum policy, the Conservatives launched an attack ad on migrant boats that has been described as “abhorrent.”

The video posted on X shows a small boat arriving through the view of a pair of binoculars. People then gather on the beach, rolling out a red carpet and writing the word ‘welcome’ in the sand. The video concludes with the words ‘Labour’s approach to illegal immigration’ and is accompanied by the caption: “Don’t wake up to this on 5th July.”

Social media was flooded with people sharing their disgust at the video.

Tim Farron, Lib Dems candidate and former leader of the party, described the ad as “despicable”, adding “for justice to be done, your annihilation on the 4th is important.”

“A grubby ad from a grubby campaign for a grubby government,” was one comment.

Another read: “This is divisive and misleading as the red bus lies during the EU Ref. We are not the country Reform and Tories want us to be.”

Others pointed to the hypocrisy due to the Tories’ own record on immigration. With one X user writing:

“Five years of the highest levels of legal and illegal immigration ever and you seriously think that pretending Labour will be worse cuts it.”

The latest attack ad by the Tories may have been especially offensive and stomach-churning, but it was no surprise. Continuing to languish in the polls, the Tories have decided that offence is the best form of defence.

Trying to spook voters into stopping a Labour landslide, the tactic echoes the defensive campaign they ran in 1997. “New Labour, New Danger,” was the message on billboards up and down the country, coupled with an image of a demon-eyed version of Tony Blair.

And look where such a tactic got them. A Labour landslide and the worst defeat of any party since 1931.

Aside from the absence of the Spice Girls blasting out their second album, it could be 1997 all over again, with a tired, scandal-hit government on the brink of collapse relying on distasteful smears after hallowing out public services and leaving us all paying the price. It’s just a shame there is not the same sort of excitement about a change of government that Tony Blair managed to generate.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Election Watch

The post The clowns are packing up, the circus is almost over appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.

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