After becoming Conservative leader in 1997 William Hague oversaw a review of the party’s leadership rules. As everyone interested in politics knows the main part of this was to give ordinary party members a vote – Conservative MPs would still get to whittle down the field of candidates to two, but ordinary party members would then pick the final winner (in theory at least, in 2016 that final choice was dodged by Andrea Leadsom standing down).

The other major change introduced by Hague seems to have seeped less well into the consciousness of the Westminster village. You still see the press talking about “stalking horse” candidates sometimes, or talk about such-and-such mounting a challenge against the leader, echoing back to the old rules when people like Thatcher in 1975 and Heseltine in 1990 could directly stand against the incumbent leader. Such a race is no longer possible. Grant Shapps this morning called for Theresa May to call a leadership election. Again, she can’t really do that, or at least, not in the way John Major did in 1995 when he called an election and stood himself. The current rules state that if a contest is caused by the resignation of the incumbent leader then that outgoing leader can’t stand as a candidate. In short, the only way Theresa May could call a leadership election is by resigning and going away.

Under the current rules a Conservative leader cannot face a leadership “challenge”. Instead the way of removing a leader is through a vote of confidence by Conservative MPs, triggered by 15% (currently 48) of Conservative MPs writing to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee saying they would like one. The incumbent leader does not face a challenger or challengers in such a vote, it is a straight Yes or No to whether they should continue in office. If the leader loses the vote, then they cease to be leader and an election for a replacement begins in which the ousted leader is not eligible to stand.

The 48 letters do not need to be organised together, or indeed sent at the same time. They can be a collection of dribs and drabs sent over weeks or months. Right now Grant Shapps appears to be organising (or is, at least, the public face of) those Tory MPs who wish May to go, but there is no requirement in the rules for a “challenger” as such.

Full rules are actually quite hard to find – while the party constitution has some details of the election procedure, the rules for ousting a leader are in a seperate document from the 1922 committee. A full set of the rules is, however, on Tom Quinn’s website here.

310 Responses to “How to oust a Tory leader”

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  1. Come on Jockland !!! Let’s get to the wurrrruld cup !!!!!

  2. @Valerie

    “Under Blair and Brown, resources became available which made a real difference to the work I was able to do.”

    Reflecting on this, it’s not the first time such a view has been expressed here, especially when contrasting with Tories. On the surface you can see the attraction. At least Nulab put more money than the Tories into schools and hospitals and services etc.

    The problem comes when others factor in the rosy stuff, the additional Privatisations, Academies, tuition fees, ATOS etc., and the lack of transition controls for immigration etc., stuff that went beyond what the Tories did. Then there’s letting house prices keep rising, and utlitity bills, and so on. Many of which were not telegraphed beforehand.

    The other problem comes when you then factor in that the traditional Labour voter might have expected rather more to counter the drift down the liberal economic road. Actually renationalising something significant, for example. Doing more about mass unemployment, trying to get to full employment. Not just sticking plasters that prolong the agony.

    In the end you then get to the problem that embracing the liberalism so heartily sowed seeds of Labour’s electoral problems down the line. From not being prepared for the rather inevitable banking Crunch, to moving so far towards the liberal that it allowed the actual liberal party to outflank them on the left and cost them votes in 2010.

  3. when others factor in the LESS rosy stuff

  4. Danny

    “If leave can deliver a successful Brexit….”

    Some no doubt are expecting that. And some expecting catastrophe. But generally I notice indifference (outside of these pages). ‘The decision’s made, get on with it!’ So I’m not sure when if ever the good people of these islands will wake up and take notice of what’s about to happen – especially if there’s a hard Brexit. I was talking to my plumber yesterday – a lovely guy who voted for Brexit ‘because of sovereignty’. He was horrified to hear that my wife had been informed by the Home Office that she’s here illegally and should leave: “but you’re married!” There’s been plenty about it in the papers, and he’s intelligent, so he clearly hasn’t been paying attention to Brexit matters. I didn’t ask him about the lorry parks needed at Dover, the future of the open sky policy, drug regulation , let alone the northern Irish border, but I doubt he’s exactly genned up on them. My guess is that by the time he and others like him notice that Leaving isn’t quite as simple as Johnson and Rees-Mogg make out, we’ll be out.

  5. And if you don’t challenge the liberalism, then it allows others to come in after and do even more. Numlab’s responsibility for what came next can’t be easily evaded.

  6. @ROBIN

    “Andrew Rawnsley on the money in the Observer today. The only reason May hasn’t gone yet is because no-one is confident that they will be the beneficiary.”


    Andy’s opening paragraph is suitably punchy…

    “Theresa May is a very lucky politician. Yes, really. Her career has been kissed with outrageous fortune. She was promoted to home secretary in the coalition government because Nick Clegg turned down the job and George Osborne – here’s a lovely irony – told David Cameron that it would serve them to have a dispensable woman. She lucked into being prime minister because she was the only candidate left standing when all her rivals ate each other in an orgy of Tory cannibalism. Then she wiped out her majority with a snap election that she didn’t have to call, but her colleagues hesitated to punish that debacle in the traditional way because they feared that bad could be followed by worse.”

  7. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo –


  8. “The more difficult question is what happens if Parliament decides it does not want to proceed with Brexit in the way Government has decided. Presumably on such a big issue, where there are financial implications, the Government would fall. It would effectively be a vote of no confidence in Government.”

    Don’t forget that under the FTPA there’s no longer any such thing as “effectively … a vote of no confidence”.

    It must be quite possible that the Government fails to get approval of its deal but wins the confidence vote that is likely to follow.

    If its already got its EU Withdrawal Act (and if it hasn’t it will presumably have fallen already) it’s still got all the cards.

    If it proceeds we’re back to the Supreme Court to see if that Act is enough, but it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t be.

    If it decides to try to pull the plug, we’re off to the CJEU to test whether it can. Possibly with a side challenge from leavers as to whether it needs another Act of Parliament to do that on the same basis as it needed one to give notice in the first place.

    And if it falls, the next Government still faces one or other of the above choices anyway.

    You’re not wrong about the license to print money.

  9. patrickbrian,
    ” My guess is that by the time he and others like him notice that Leaving isn’t quite as simple as Johnson and Rees-Mogg make out, we’ll be out.”

    Yes, but it will not help the politicians who brought it about. That is precisely the problem conservatives face. Either halt brexit now and upset every leave voter who expects them to do it, or let it proceed and in due course face the swathes of upset voters who discover it did not turn out as they were told. My view of the silent majority is that they are silent because they expect the professional politicians to just get on with running things competently. The rise in voting numbers just recently indicates that people have become involved because they see a real critical issue, but there are many others out there still uninvolved. Like your plumber.

    The libs did well in 2010 on a left wing program. They then propped up a right wing government and rather destroyed their own image. But it demonstrated that a left program could be a vote winner, as Cobyn noted. The libs are in pretty poor condition right now, but their two noted featurs are being tory light and anti EU. So how would one want to be positioned if conservatives make a mess of Brexit? There will be a ready made party in place to welcome disaffected tories.

    The one clear message to come from the behaviour of the government is that there is no easy route to a good Brexit. If there was, they would have done it by now, or publicly declared their plans and timeable. All we get is delay. They are not expecting a successful Brexit. So being politicians what would they do? What would anyone so? Obviously, find a way to stop Brexit.


    I’m not surprised the EU won’t touch this with bargepole.

    Whatever the pros and cons of the Catalonian claim to Independence and the validity in International Law of this Referendum, the EU Bureaucracy has a 100% interest in resisting it, and leaving it to Spain to sort out.

    If Catalonia declares Independence it will, whether Catalonia and the EU Bureaucracy like it or not, have left the EU. Article 50 wouldn’t come into it. Catalonia, like Scotland, is not, and never has been, a Member of the EU. Spain is the Member State.

    The EU is creature of law and of the Lisbon Treaty. It comprises solely of Member States, not of land areas who become new Nation States.

    If Catalonia says it is no longer, part of Spain, it can’t have it both ways. It will have left the EU with immediate effect, and its residents immediately lose their entitlement to Freedom of Movement or Free Trade, with other Member States. It also immediately leaves the Customs Union, and the Single Market, and its’ MEPs lose the right to sit at Strasbourg.

    One of the internal contradictions in the claims of Scottish, Catalonian, Welsh, and other ‘Nationalists’, is that they seem to think that they can leave the EU Member States of which they are part, and force to the EU to immediately take them in as Members, on whatever terms they like.

    This is wrong in law. Which is probably why there has been such a deafening silence on this issue from Nicola Krankie in Scotland. If she were in Catalonia’s position on the other hand, she’d be announcing to every man and his dog in the EU, that they should be backing her.

    The EU however, is no friend of Nationalism. It’s not even too keen on respecting the independence of the states that already comprise the EU. There’s no way it will recognise any new ones against the wishes of the existing States. And, even if it wanted to, the EU will never be able to admit them as new Members, because the existing Member States, from which Catalonia etc, seceded would veto it.

    Nationalism and the EU are not compatible. So it’s ironic that its’ these allegedly ‘Nationalist’ parties which are the most keen on their parent states being in the EU itself. It all amounts to a severe case of schizophrenia.

    Scottish Nationalists must have had a rude awakening when they saw the violence Spain inflicted on Catalonia following the referendum. And we ain’t seen nothing yet.

    The UK’s attitude however is the exact opposite to Spain’s. If Scotland wants to vote for and become Independent good luck to it.

    Watch this Space. We might all be be in for some fun at the expense of the EU and the SNP. SNP EU Remain voters, will be observing these goings on, and even the most obtuse amongst them, might start to work out that Scotland will never be an EU Member Stare in its’ own right.

    Scotland would first have to leave the UK, then join the EU again as new Members. But the EU doesn’t want them. Spain alone would veto their application.

    For Scotland to remain in the EU Nicola Krankie has to persuade the UK to Remain, and then to make sure that Scotland remains part of the UK.

    Good luck with that Nicola.

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