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Who chooses the PM?

Six of the UK’s last nine prime ministers have been chosen by Conservative party members, not by voters. Who are those members? Are they who they say they are? How robust is the process by which they’re polled? The party won’t say, so we went to court to find out.

Our application for Judicial Review

james harding

Just over a year ago, we signed up Archie, my family’s tortoise, to be a member of the Conservative Party.  We were out to make a point. The point was that the public had no way of knowing who was voting to choose Boris Johnson’s successor. And we weren’t sure the Conservatives had much idea either.   

The Conservative Party had refused to tell us anything about the make-up of the electorate that, last summer, voted in Liz Truss to be Britain’s prime minister. And, even though the Government’s spy agency had discussed security issues with the Conservatives, they wouldn’t say what, if any, measures they took to make sure the election was safe and fair.  

After we told the Conservatives that Archie had successfully signed as a Party member, we went back and asked again. Who’s voting? And how do you know they are who they say they are? There’s no reason that the Tories could have guessed Archie Harding was a tortoise, but they could have checked if an Archie lived at our address or existed on the electoral register.  

They did neither. Instead, they said the electorate and the election was none of our business. They said registering the tortoise was a stunt (you think?) and that we were seeking publicity (ouch).  

So we pressed the Conservatives to answer a set of questions about who was voting in the party leadership contest that was choosing Britain’s next prime minister. When they replied, our jaws hit the floor: the Conservative Party’s a private members club, they said. It doesn’t need to tell the press or public anything about the process to choose its leader; and the PM is not chosen by them, but appointed by the Sovereign.  

We consulted lawyers. We thought that an election that involved 0.3 per cent of the electorate to choose the prime minister was undemocratic, but that wasn’t our case. As journalists our job is to make information available to the public. And we couldn’t think of information that was more obviously in the public interest than information about the safety and integrity of the election of the prime minister.  

Read more.

Supporting documents:

“The leadership process does call for a rethink… Maybe there should be different rules for electing a prime minister…”

Archie Norman, former Conservative party chief executive

“It would be better… for the members of parliament to have the full say on who the leader is. I think that applies to all the political parties actually.”

William Hague, former Conservative party leader

“A handful of people in this country were given the opportunity to choose the next prime minister. And I don’t think that we should go through that again.”

Camilla Cavendish, former Director of Policy for David Cameron

Read on


The Conservative Party is a private members’ club

A High Court judge in the UK has denied Tortoise’s bid for judicial review of the Conservatives’ leadership election process – while acknowledging the public’s right to more information


Time for a rethink

The Conservative Party needs to change the way it elects its leaders, writes Archie Norman, its former chief executive.


Power to the people

Voters overwhelmingly reject the way the Conservative Party is choosing its next leader and the UK’s next prime minister, according to a new poll.

A voicemail from the editor

The ministry of silly elections

We believe the British people should have the right to know who’s choosing their next prime minister. To find out, we’re looking to take the Conservative Party to court.

editor’s letter

Who decides the next PM?

We have sent a letter to the Conservative Party to inform them that we are seeking a Judicial Review of their conduct of the election. This is because we believe it is undemocratic and unlawful.


No way to choose

The Conservatives have been reduced to saying the Sovereign chooses the PM. This is not honest and not serious. Here are the steps we’re taking to launch a judicial review to find out more about their leadership race.

Our correspondence with Conservative Party Headquarters

Legal documents to support the case for transparency

Magyar Helsinki Bizottsag v. Hungary

Case of Magyar Helsinki Bizottsag v. HungaryDownload

Kennedy (Appellant) v. The Charity Commission (Respondent)

Kennedy v The Charity CommissionDownload

Tory membership: a timeline

Further reading

Former Conservative Party Chairman Norman Tebbit in the Daily Telegraph on why leaving the election of the next prime minister to the Tory membership is undemocratic.

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