Insiders fluttering on an election

June 23, 2024 8:26 AM
  • Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports
June 23, 2024 8:26 AM
  • Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports

Great Britain is entertaining a new political scandal — and great theater it is.

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The British do some things very well and theater is at the top of the list. Remember when the BBC started to sneak into American pop culture? British comedy, historical drama, mystery series, and political satire quickly captured American audiences. The BBC brought us the Prime Minister’s Questions, in which the PM faces down the House of Commons to answer questions from members. Issues are raised and argued spontaneously, in a marvelous display of debate skills.

Another category in which the British always have been one step ahead is betting. The British public loves a flutter, as it were, and thousands of bookmakers have always been willing to take their bets. Trackside bookies were famous for making and adjusting the odds in their heads at famous horse races. When the internet and online betting came along, British bookies were standing in line for a piece of the action. It is legal to bet on nearly anything in Great Britain and bookmakers post odds on any event they think will generate wagering. Bookies make odds on political candidates and indeed even on the date of an election.

Rishi Sunak, the current prime minister, has called for an election to be held on July 4. He could have chosen any day. By law, the current Parliament would automatically dissolve on December 17, five years after it first met. It is not uncommon for a prime minister to call for an election earlier than required by law. Usually, they pick a date when circumstances favor their party to win a majority again. Sunak appears to have misjudged the public sentiment, as Labor is predicted to easily win a majority in the election. Sunak misjudged something else: the integrity of some of the insiders of his government.

Just before the prime minister called for the vote while Americans are shooting off fireworks, parading in the streets and attending barbecues, at least four insiders within Sunak’s government appear to have placed bets on the date of the election. The oddsmakers favored an election in November, so the odds on an early election were good — too good to resist, it seems. A member of Parliament and a close associate of the prime minister said that he “put a flutter on the general election some weeks ago, which had resulted in some routine inquiries.” Also under investigation are the prime minister’s campaign manager, a candidate for Parliament, and the wife of an insider. To round it off, a police officer who was part of the prime minister’s security detail has been arrested.

Prime Minster Sunak is not happy. He is quoted as saying on BBC that he was “incredibly angry, incredibly angry.” As well he should be. He is promising to support the investigation and drum any offender out of the party. It is a bit late, as it appears that before the wheels of justice can turn, Sunak himself will be drummed out of office. The press is also speculating that he may be drummed out of Parliament. According to those sources, it would be the first time a sitting prime minister failed to retain his own seat in Parliament when his party lost the majority.

It is a gambling scandal of epic proportions. It might eclipse Downton Abbey, The Office and Bake-Off as the greatest of British programs. Except that it won’t. The scandal will get lost in the elections and the change of parties and national strategies. A return of Labor is a bigger story. Besides that, the UK Gambling Commission will treat each of the cases separately and as individual crimes. The punters will be punished and the bookies will probably be fined for not vetting the punters adequately as government insiders. But when it is over, it will still be possible to bet on the date of an election, as well as the outcome of the vote.

Britian has had its share of political scandals and they do bring down governments. But as the saying goes, “The prime minister is gone, long live the prime minister,” because the government goes on regardless of the party holding the majority.

You might want to tune in to the “Prime Minister’s Questions” with a Labor prime minister; it should be great political theater. In fact, that may be the greatest of England’s culture exports: televised debates. Free-floating, funny, contentious, and oft times brilliant repartee, it is political theater at its best.