Why is the Tory leadership contest taking so long and who will be the new PM?
This article will continue to be updated as the election progresses.
On 24 May 2019, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation as leader of the Conservative Party (“the Tories”), effective from 7 June.
This announcement triggered an election within the Conservative Party to determine who will lead the party and succeed her as Prime Minister.
It has been two weeks since Theresa May’s resignation took effect, and we still don’t know who the new Prime Minister will be.
Why is it taking so long?
Time had to be allowed to give potential candidates the opportunity to nominate for the leadership. Nominations closed on 10 June — the Monday after the Prime Minister resigned as leader. Potential candidates spent the weekend trying to gain the support of at least eight MPs to endorse their nomination. Ten MPs successfully nominated by the deadline.
The final two candidates are determined by an exhaustive ballot, requiring multiple rounds of voting to gradually eliminate candidates.
In the first round of voting, candidates had to meet a threshold of support of 5% of the parliamentary party — 17 MPs had to cast their vote for the candidate. Three candidates — Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper and Esther McVey — were eliminated because they failed to meet the required threshold.
Matt Hancock subsequently withdrew from the contest; he received only 20 votes and was likely to be eliminated in the second ballot, which required at least 10% support (33 MPs) or the elimination of the candidate with the fewest votes in the event that all achieved the threshold.
After the second ballot, Dominic Raab was eliminated, having fewer votes than the threshold and the third round on 19 June resulted in Rory Stewart dropping to last place and being eliminated.
In the fourth and fifth rounds on 20 June, Sajid Javid and Michael Gove were eliminated respectively, leaving two candidates — Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.
This system is similar to preferential voting systems familiar to Australians and some other jurisdictions. However, instead of using an instant runoff approach, where candidates are ranked by voter preference and ballots automatically redistributed according to those preferences, this is a multi-round approach with at least one candidate eliminated per round.
Between each ballot, MPs were free to reconsider their votes and candidates can negotiate for support. This makes the process slower and less predictable.
The elimination ballot is only used to determine the final two candidates. The choice between the those candidates will be made by the Conservative Party membership, who will cast a postal ballot. The result of that postal election will not be announced until 22 July.
All these voting rounds and the need for a postal vote necessarily make the process slower than if a preferential system was used and voting restricted to the parliamentary party.
However, this is not a particularly unique system. It resembles the process that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) uses to choose its leader and, although it is rare to have more than two or three nominees for the Labor leadership, the ALP’s process can take about five weeks.
In many presidential systems the President is chosen using a similar two-round system, as in Afghanistan, Brazil and France. In this approach, a second ballot is held to decide between the two most popular candidates if no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round.
Who will be the next PM?
Unfortunately it is impossible to say with certainty who will be the next Prime Minister this early on, because although the parliamentary party’s preferred leader is Boris Johnson, his popularity among the general membership is unknown.
According to an opinion poll conducted by Opinium from 16–18 June, Rory Stewart was the public’s most preferred alternative to Boris Johnson (who was not included in the poll), but 24% of those surveyed said they didn’t know who they would support.
The YouGov poll for 18–19 June had a significantly larger sample size of just over 2,500, and measured 35% support for Rory Stewart compared to 21% for Boris Johnson, but while the Opinium poll over the same period measured similar support for Boris Johnson (22%), support for Rory Stewart was just 21%.
Jeremy Hunt’s support in all three polls was between 14 and 18%, suggesting perhaps that the parliamentary party is out-of-step with the views of the public — and possibly their own members.
It is now up to the general members of the Conservative Party to determine which they believe would make the better leader, Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt.