Boris Johnson today fulfilled his longstanding ambition of becoming prime minister – but was elected by a share of the population roughly the size of a decent football crowd.
The election was the first time that a party membership has directly elected Britain’s prime minister. Boris Johnson has been placed in No 10 not by the British public or their elected representatives, but by 92,153 Conservative members, a group that collectively accounts for 0.13 per cent of the British population – marking a fundamental shift in where power is located. Jeremy Hunt meanwhile received 46,656 votes.
Membership of the Conservative Party has been in long-term decline. In 2005, when David Cameron became party leader, the Conservatives counted 258,239 members. As of July 2019, there were 180,000 members. Among them are far more men than women; most live in the South of the UK; they are overwhelmingly white, and significantly more right wing than the average voter.
According to analysis from Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University, party members who supported Boris Johnson are even more ideologically unrepresentative of British voters than their other Conservative members. Some 85 per cent of Johnson’s supporters are keen on a no-deal Brexit (this fell to 37 per cent among Hunt supporters). Though one in five Tory grassroots members would like to see less emphasis on climate change in public debate, this figure rises to one in four among Johnson supporters (the figure was around one in ten for Hunt supporters).
It’s the first time since the days of rotten or pocket boroughs, before the 1832 Reform Act, when politicians could use boroughs with very small electorates to gain undue influence in the houses of parliament, that only a few thousand people have wielded such extraordinary power.