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
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.
- High Court judgement: (5/12/23)
- Tortoise’s skeleton argument, on appeal (14/11/23)
- Conservative Party’s skeleton argument, on appeal (23/11/23)
- Witness statement (6/10/22)
- Statement of facts and grounds (7/10/22)
“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
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
The Conservative Party needs to change the way it elects its leaders, writes Archie Norman, its former chief executive.
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
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.
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.
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
Kennedy (Appellant) v. The Charity Commission (Respondent)
Tory membership: a timeline
- Before 1965 – leaders of the Conservative Party emerges after discussion among party MPs
- Summer 1965 – Alec Douglas-Home introduces a new process allowing future leaders to be elected by Conservative MP’s. The first leader elected under these rules was Edward Heath
- 1 May 1997 – the Conservatives, led by John Major, are swept from power by Tony Blair’s Labour
- February 1998 – a new constitution for the party is set out by then-leader William Hague in response to the loss, giving party members the final vote in the process of electing a leader
- 13 September 2001 – Conservative members vote in a leadership election for the first time, opting for Iain Duncan Smith
- 6 November 2003 – Michael Howard is elected unopposed by the parliamentary party, without a vote from the membership
- May 2005 – Howard announces his resignation after general election defeat. He attempts to change the leadership rules to give the final choice of leader back to MPs, but fails.
- 6 December 2005 – David Cameron is elected Conservative leader by the party membership
- 11 July 2016 – Theresa May wins the race to succeed Cameron as Tory leader and PM unopposed after her opponent Andrea Leadsom drops out
- 24 May 2019 – May announces she will resign as leader of the party
- 23 July 2019 – Boris Johnson wins the leadership election with 66 per cent of the vote.
- 7 July 2022 – Johnson announces his resignation as Conservative
- Party leader
- 20 July 2022 – The field of leadership contenders is narrowed down to the final two – Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak
- 2 September 2022 – Membership ballots close
- 5 September 2022 – The winner of the membership ballot is announced
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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