How do Conservative leadership elections work? Only the 1922 committee knows for sure – LabourList
Boris Johnson announced on Thursday that he would step down as prime minister following the resignation of more than 50 Tory ministers in two days, including Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. During his resignation speech, Johnson said he would remain in office until a new leader of the Conservative Party was elected – a move that was heavily criticized by Labor as well as some Tory MPs.
Andrew Bridgen urged chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers Graham Brady to “truncate, where possible, the leadership election process”, and fellow Tory MP Bob Neill said that the party “should speed up the transition as much as possible”. But how exactly does a Conservative Party leadership election work?
Leadership contests are usually held in two stages. In the first, Conservative MPs identify two candidates to move on to the second stage. Where there are more than two leadership candidates, the field is narrowed by MPs through a series of Conservative MP ballots (if only one candidate is successfully nominated, they become leader of the party, although a vote of members of the Conservative Party may be required to ratify the result). The candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated and the process is repeated until two candidates remain.
The rules for this stage of the election are decided by the 1922 Committee Executive with input from the Conservative Party Board of Directors (the party’s national governing body). The exact rules are not set out in any publicly available document. At the start of a leadership race, the chairman of the 1922 committee decides on the electoral timetable and announces the rules to be followed, including the nomination requirements of deputies who wish to run.
The second stage sees the two final candidates compete in a ballot of party members, using a one-member, one-vote system. The candidate who obtains the most votes is elected leader.
In 2016, following the resignation of David Cameron, the 1922 committee set a timetable for June 29, five days after Cameron announced his decision to step down. Nominations opened immediately and closed the next day at noon. The first round of voting for deputies took place on July 5, with a second round on July 7. Two candidates remained after the second round – Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. A party membership ballot was due to take place and was expected to last about nine weeks, but Leadsom announced on July 11 that she was withdrawing her candidacy. May was later confirmed as Prime Minister without a vote by members of the Conservative Party.
In the Tory leadership race after Theresa May resigned in 2019, MPs wishing to stand had to be backed by at least eight of their colleagues. The nomination window opened on June 4 and closed on June 10, with the first round of voting for MPs taking place on June 13. The large number of candidates led to the decision to eliminate candidates who obtained less than 17 votes in the first ballot and less than 33 votes in the second. Subsequent rounds saw the candidate with the fewest votes eliminated.
The top ten candidates have been narrowed down to just two: Jeremy Hunt and Johnson. Johnson went on to win 92,153 votes to Jeremy Hunt’s 46,656 with an 87.4 per cent turnout in the final Conservative Party membership ballot. This contest, which saw Johnson take power, lasted 40 days. Reports suggest Brady is likely to suggest a faster schedule than Johnson is hoping for this time around – with a six-week contest ending when MPs return from recess, meaning a schedule similar to 2019.
The 1922 committee will meet on Monday and set out the exact process for narrowing the list of nine candidates to just two in a series of votes by MPs before parliament recesses at the end of next week. Brady will then meet with the party’s board to confirm a schedule for roundups in July and August, before members vote. The new Conservative leader and prime minister is expected to be announced on September 5. So how do Conservative leadership elections work? Only the 1922 committee knows for sure.
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