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How does the Conservative leadership contest work?

The Conservative party leadership election has started. What is the process for electing a new leader?   



Who is running for leader?

Theresa May is the bookmakers’ favourite. As is Michael Gove, the controversial former education secretary detested by teachers up and down the country. Then there’s Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox and the less well-known Andrea Leadsom to consider.

Did they want to remain or leave?

Stephen Crabb and Theresa May both voted to remain in the EU, whist Liam Fox, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom supported the Leave campaign.

Who has ruled out?

Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, face of the Leave campaign and once the bookies’ favourite to be the next Prime Minister, announced he would not be standing for Conservative leader. Jeremy Hunt, despite stating he was “seriously considering” leadership, stood down days before the nomination. George Osborne, long ranked as the favourite, is not standing. Education secretary Nicky Morgan has also ruled herself out.

What will happen in the meantime?

In his resignation speech, Cameron announced he would continue in post as Prime Minister for the next three months, until the new party leader is elected.

How does the election work?

Firstly, Conservative MPs present a choice of two candidates to the whole party. Then, party members vote for their preferred candidates from a shortlist of two using a ‘one member one vote’ system.

Has it always been like that?


When and why did it change?

Before 1965, Conservative candidates simply ‘emerged’ from a ‘magic circle’. In 1997 a Conservative party document The Fresh Future, outlined the election rules that are applied today. A chapter headed: “Democracy: giving power to the members” placed emphasis on increased party membership and hence the involvement of party members in the second stage of the election.  This process was adopted in 1998.

How can a leadership contest be initiated?

Either by the incumbent leader resigning (as seen with Cameron) or by the Parliamentary Party passing a vote of no confidence.

What do candidates need to be able to stand?

Candidates must be nominated by any two MPs taking the Conservative whip.

What is the voting system?

Between MPs, the ballot is held under the first past the post voting system.  

What is the timetable of events?  

5th July

The first ballot of Conservative MPs is announced. The candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated.

7th July

Another vote is held. Voting will continue to take place every Tuesday and Thursday until two candidates remain.


The candidates spend their summers campaigning. Votes are given to party members. 

9th September

 The result is announced, just in time for the Conservative party conferance on the 2nd of October.   

Can I vote?

Chances are, no. Unlike the Labour leadership election last summer, you have to have been a member of the Conservative party before the nominations was opened up on the 29th of June in order to be able to vote in this contest. On top of that, you have to have been a member for three months before the time the voting ends. 

What happens next?

We wait. The knock out competition begins, and by Tuesday evening we’ll wave goodbye to some of the eliminated constestants. 

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.