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Picking the Prime Minister

Picking the Prime Minister

The Conservative Party has begun choosing its new leader. How will the contest work, and who will pick the next prime minister?

“Thank you, thank you. It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister. And I have agreed with Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of our backbench MPs, that the process of choosing that new leader should begin now.”

Boris Johnson, BBC News

In the few days since Boris Johnson made that speech in Downing Street, a long line of his colleagues has formed to succeed him.

The decision about who becomes party leader and prime minister will be made by Conservative MPs, and then party members, in a process announced by the newly re-elected chairman of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady 

“The 1922 executive met this afternoon and I have since met with the board of the Conservative Party and we have agreed the way forward, er, for the leadership elections.”

Sir Graham Brady, ITV News


To be in with a chance of winning, each contender must first get 20 nominations from fellow Conservative MPs.

Once they’ve passed that threshold they need at least 30 votes from Tory MPs to get past the first round of voting.

If all of them reach that number, the one with the fewest votes is eliminated.

The plan is to then reduce the number of candidates quickly through a series of votes until just two are left by the time MPs go on their summer break at the end of next week.

And then it’s over to Conservative Party members, who will pick the winner in a postal ballot.


They’ll be the third successive prime minister to be chosen by the Conservative Party and not, initially, by the British public at a general election.

“Jeremy Hunt, 46,656. Boris Johnson, 92,153. And therefore I give notice that Boris Johnson is elected as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.”


Theresa May wasn’t chosen by members because her rival, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out of the race before they got to vote.

But Sir Graham Brady says that won’t happen this time, because he’ll seek an assurance from the final two candidates that they’ll fight it out til the end.

So what do we know about the people choosing the next prime minister?


358 Conservative MPs will narrow down the list of leadership candidates.

107 of those MPs, almost a third, were newly elected at the general election in 2019 when Boris Johnson led the party to its biggest majority in 30 years.

“This old mining seat is Boris Johnson’s territory now and that land grab stretches from coast to coast. From Blyth to Blackpool South to Bury to Bishop Auckland to Bolsover, and that’s just the b’s. Dozens of Labour seats turned Tory.”

Beth Rigby, Sky News

Those Conservative MPs in the Red Wall represent places that historically voted Labour and backed Brexit, which is something they have in common with many Conservative Party members.

About 160,000 people were eligible to vote in the last Tory leadership election. The party says that number has since grown, but like other parties we don’t know exactly how many members there are.

We do know they’re generally people with higher incomes who tend to live in the south east of England.

In 2018, 44 percent of them were over 65.

And according to Professor Tim Bale from Queen Mary University of London, the overwhelming majority were keen on a hard Brexit.

But what Britain does now it’s out of the European Union hasn’t really been a topic of this leadership contest so far. Instead it’s mainly been about whether to cut taxes.

And it’s also about the future of the Conservative Party. Here’s Professor Tim Bale speaking in March

“Basically the underlying question I guess is whether what we’ve seen in the Conservative Party over the last five, six years is simply another episode in a long story of a party with a genius for adapting to the zeitgeist, and in some cases shaping that zeitgeist, or are we seeing a more profound shift? Are we seeing a party that was ostensibly a fairly mainstream centre-right party in the European mode, even if it doesn’t necessarily like Europe, morphing into some sort of populist, radical, right formation?

Professor Tim Bale, The UK in a Changing Europe

We’ll know the answer to that on the 5th of September when the Conservative Party announces its new leader and prime minister.

Today’s episode was written by Lewis Vickers and mixed by Ella Hill.