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4 July 2016

How does the Conservative leadership contest work?

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

By Rosie Collier

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?

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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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