What happened this week in the UK election campaign, from a betting controversy to Farage’s ambition

LONDON (AP) — The U.K.’s general election campaign is less than two weeks away now, and the prevailing trends don’t appear to have changed much.

The left-of-center Labour Party is the clear favorite to defeat Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives, with Keir Starmer looking set to replace him as U.K. leader on the morning of July 5.

Given how condensed U.K. election campaigns are — it’s not been a month since Sunak called the election for July 4 outside his residence at No. 10 Downing Street in the pouring rain — the leaders must be getting pretty tired.

At least the European Championship soccer tournament has arrived — as has summer. Both should provide a distraction for one and all.

Here are some things we’ve learned in the past week:

Fancy a flutter

Britain, it’s often said, is a nation of gamblers. Mostly on horses, or the football. But the bookmakers can offer odds on almost anything.

For general elections, there’s a growing market over the date of the vote, as unlike most other democracies that decision rests solely in the hands of the prime minister.

All everyone knew was that Sunak had to call an election by January 2025. For months, he’d been saying that his “working assumption” was that it would be in the second half of the year.

Given the upcoming summer vacation period, most pundits and lawmakers in his Conservative Party, were predicting that it would likely take place in the fall. So it came as something of a surprise that Sunak announced the date on May 22.

It wasn’t that much of a surprise to some people apparently. The Gambling Commission, the industry’s regulator, has revealed that it’s investigating allegations that a string of people with links to Sunak bet on the timing of the July 4 contest before he announced it.

The sums aren’t massive but they are potentially hugely damaging for a party that, according to opinion polls, is facing a big defeat.

Four people are said to be involved, including one of Sunak’s bodyguards, who has been suspended, and two candidates for Parliament, one of whose husband happened to be the party’s campaign chief. He’s been put on a leave of absence, but the candidates haven’t been suspended from the party. There’s a growing expectation that more people may be implicated.

Sunak has said that he’s “incredibly angry” about the allegations and said that anyone involved in using inside information to bet on the date of the election should face the full force of the law as well as being expelled from party.

His opponents including, Keir Starmer have seized on the allegations and said Sunak should go further and suspend the candidates now.

The odds for a Starmer win are 33-1, which means anyone fancying a flutter on that outcome would have to bet 33 pounds just to get one pound in return.

Not really worth it, is it?

Footie fever

One thing that the public, including politicians, can bet on without knowing the outcome is Euro 2024, which is taking place in Germany.

Both England and Scotland have qualified for the monthlong tournament, though neither has impressed.

At least it’s providing a distraction from the election coverage, for the leaders as well as the public. Three matches a day, all live on television. With summer finally making its presence felt, it’s certainly going to be a boon for the pubs.

Both Sunak and Starmer are keen football fans. For the record, Sunak supports Southampton, which has just been promoted back to the Premier League. Starmer supports Arsenal, which was just nipped to the title by Manchester City.

He’ll be hoping that he goes one better, come the morning of July 5.

There’s not much mileage in putting a bet on though. See above.

Farage’s ambition

Nigel Farage, the self-styled political disruptor who was so instrumental in Britain’s vote in 2016 to leave the European Union, has never readily undersold himself.

He was at it again this week, as his Reform U.K. party launched its manifesto for government, though it wasn’t a manifesto in fact. Farage, who only became leader of the party on June 4, said that it was a “contract” with the British public.

Admitting that the document was “not something with which we’re going to govern the country,” Farage said he is aiming to become the leader of the opposition to Labour, which he claims has already won the election.

Seeking to woo Conservative voters from the right, he said he wants to scrap the country’s commitments to “net zero” and get net migration to zero.

Though Reform U.K. is third in most opinion polls, it’s not expected to win many seats in the House of Commons. Bookmakers — yes, them again — think he is favorite to finally win a seat in Parliament, when he contests the southeastern seaside town of Clacton. If he does, it won’t be for a lack of trying. This is the eighth attempt by the 60-year-old Farage.

His aim is clear. He openly states he wants to be a candidate for prime minister by the next election, which will have to take place by 2029.

He really doesn’t undersell himself.

Persistent polls

In two weeks time, the results will be in. The left-of-center Labour Party remains favorite to win the most seats in the 650-seat House of Commons. While major pollsters give varying figures, all show a double-digit Labour lead, with relatively little change since Sunak called the election.

According to Ipsos, Labour could win 453 seats and the Conservatives 115, with a Labour majority of 256, its biggest ever. Other pollsters have predicted something worse for the Conservatives, which have been in government since 2010.

There are signs from some leading Conservative figures that they think that’s the most likely outcome. Even Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt said the Conservatives aren’t pretending that the party winning the election is “the most likely outcome” and said his own political future is “too close to call” — his constituency is in a leafy area outside of London, a traditional Conservative safe seat.

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