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. I can’t imagine that it will be considered acceptable to have two PMs in a row that did not go through a general election to get the post.

    I know May did subsequently [though that was hardly a ringing endorsement] but Tory MPs decided upon her and, however it’s done, should it come to that again, there will be virtually unstoppable demands for another general election surely?

  2. TM
    let us see:

    1. your party has just won an election;

    2. you have negotiated a working majority;

    3. you are at 40% and neck and neck with opposition;

    4. you are conducting the most important negotiations for half a century;

    5. your leader is probably not, in any event, going to stay to the next election which is 5 years away;

    clearly time for a leadership election !!!!!

  3. Interesting to see a number of Catalan based banks moving their legal HQ’s into other regions in case of a Catalan declaration of independence.

    An example of what happens if you pull away from state and EU oversight without a deal.

  4. (From previous thread)

    Yep – brexit is stuck until the government sorts its act out. Its stuck. And i cant see a change of leader solving that – they will have exactly the same problems as May is facing.
    With Thatcher the problem was her – her growing erraticness and megalomania (and alcoholism?) and insistence on sticking to toxic policies like the poll tax and the baggage of the ten years of her rule.
    By changing her they were able to get away with a partial reset via John Major.
    Ditching May will achieve none of that – as the problem is brexit – and thats not going away. It would take a politician of extraordinary skill and a popular touch to unite the party and deliver some sort of workable brexit deal – but they have no-one of that calibre.
    But May has to go to stop the situation getting worse and give them one more throw of the brexit negotiating dice – albeit one they know is doomed.
    I can see this ending up with tory mps resigning “for the good of the country” to force a general election and labour being passed the poisoned dogs dinner that the our politicians are benig forced to eat up.



    Shapps is a dic*head.

  6. I see UK Polling Report has now started a thread on “How to Oust a Tory Leader”. Surely its all over for Theresa now …

    I see UK Polling Report has now started a thread on “How to Oust a Tory Leader”. Surely its all over for Theresa now …

    Very good:-)

  8. Pretty bizarre system really; a leader could have the confidence of 85% of Tory MPs but still be forced to step down and not allowed to run again?!

    Lucky for Corbyn that Labour don’t have that system!

  9. [from previous thread]

    reggieside: This kind of thing generates its own momentum. A lot of MPs who were prepared to let her carry will just want an end to the situation as its paralysing government.

    I would agree about the momentum of the situation, but the paralysis in government is good at the moment. I doubt a change of leader is going to resolve any of the dispute at base over what Brexit really should mean – I doubt that this is a question which a leader can resolve within the Tory party, it is probably a matter of waiting until something can be resolved by taking a question to the country or rolling over and telling Labour to fix it.

    If the letters trigger a no confidence vote, we might find she wins it, though I doubt she would win Corbyn style with the party in the country.

  10. Barny

    If the PM had the support of 85% of the MPs she would win the vote of confidence.

  11. Never mind, misunderstood the rules!

  12. @S THOMAS

    I think the problem is that

    1. Although they won an election they clearly feel that they did not command the will of the people when they thought they did.

    2. The negotiation seemed to expose many of the issues about their policies, the magic money tree as an example.

    3. Agreed. Normally 6 months into a terms you would not be looking at a battle with a what you would call a cryptomarxist who will turn us into zimbabwe. especially having said the same for the person (Miliband ) whose policies that are now being adopted

    4. The point is that most of the rheortic has roven to be false, it was going to be easy and the EU needs us more than we need them. It is not going as people expected the EU did not read the script

    5. This I think becomes the problem. there are two issues here. Brexit and when do we have a brexit deal, and the election which has to happen in 2022 baring any change in the law. The point is that it is not clear that we would have had an agreement by 2022, it is not clear that we would have even been out of a transition phase by 2022. So when do you get rid of May becomes a real problem.

    After brexit could mean she fight the 2022 election

    The real problem is that anyone else is too divisive BoJo, DD, JRM

    I do agree there is a battle going on both in terms of the brexit but also in terms of policy out side brexit and the division are just as stark.

    however I am not sure there is an easy way forward for anyone at the moment and hence I fear this will rumble on and on.

    This reminds me of the PLP fighting Corbyn. The problem is that in the end this is all about electability and the only way to prove it is an election. which is the very thing that the Tories have kept May in place to avoid

  13. Barny: Pretty bizarre system really; a leader could have the confidence of 85% of Tory MPs but still be forced to step down and not allowed to run again?!
    Not quite. If 15% send in letters, there is a vote of confidence, at which point the 85% could support the incumbent, in which case, nothing happens.

    Te 85% looks carefully crafted to require a substantial number of letters but leave the incumbent able to get 85% on the confidence vote and not be excessively weakened.

    The incumbent may accept the result of an adverse confidence vote, or I think, stand again, but there would be no point in standing again.

  14. oops, in automod, anyone care to join me in the UKPR when will she go sweepstake? I’d be prepared to hazard a guess that she’ll be on the steps outside announcing that she’s going for health reasons next wednesday before the weekly knockabout begins.

  15. @dalek

    you could be right. I think it may take a bit longer – gone by christmas.

    I think the weekend will be the immediate danger zone for May – peak plot time – the rounds of political interviews – rebels gathering names, backroom skullduggery, leaks to journalists.

    Even if she survives the weekend – she’s on very very thin ice.

    And will Boris be sacked?

  16. If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
    It were done quickly: if the assassination
    Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
    With his surcease success; that but this blow
    Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
    But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
    We’ld jump the life to come.

  17. Well, I guess we’re in for Boris as PM.

    At least he will then have to carry the can for his assurances of a bountiful brexit.

    I see two ways it could go: either he sticks to his rhetoric and we have a no-deal early exit. Or he does a de Gaulle-style volte face (in dG’s case, over Algeria and the pieds noirs, who when I come to think of it, bear some similarities to brexit diehards).

    If anyone can pull off saying “sorry guys, it’s just not possible. We need another referendum,” it’s Boris. But given the loss of face involved in that, and the size of the relevant ego, my money’s on a hard brexit.

    And hard it will be. But a national catastrophe may prove cathartic, and be necessary to purge us of our national delusions. A hopefully less devastating version of Germany ’45.

  18. @COLIN
    Shapps is a dic*head.
    October 6th, 2017 at 9:42 am”

    Yes, i have never liked Shapps and always wondered why he was made Tory party chairman at one time. I just got the impression that he was a bit slippery after it emerged he used another name to sell self help business type books. Using an alias to write books is nothing new, but the type of business involved has always been seen as a bit dubious.

    I made the comment recently that i thought the Tories might fall apart over the EU again and various people said they thought it was unlikely. I think they are putting their heads in the sand, hoping for the best.

    What has to be remembered is MP’s take their jobs very seriously, beyond party politics and short term interests. They are not going to knowingly help with decisions which would most likely lead to long term damage to the UK economy. Most passionate Brexiteers on the green benches on either side of the HoC, will be looking at the impacts on business, jobs, government finance, spending on public services etc. Most MP’s are not going to sanction any Brexit, that is too damaging to UK interests, just to implement the referendum result.

    Theresa May has tried to steer Brexit in a way that keep both sides of the Tory party mildly happy. I don’t think it will be possible to continue in this way beyond March 2019. If people think the current situation is tricky, then i think 2018 will see tempers boil over, as neither side is happy. Any replacement for May will face the same position. No point electing David Davis as leader, unless he is given total authority by the Tory party to do a deal at any cost. That means agreeing to an EU divorce settlement and continued payment to the EU for single market tariff free access for as long as a permanent trade deal takes to negotiate. Then Brexit has a chance of succeeding.

    As i don’t think some hardline Tory Brexiteers will agree to a transitional EU arrangement beyond March 2021 and paying the EU large sums, then i think they might just make Brexit impossible for the Tories to implement.

  19. I can’t understand why she just doesn’t just sack BJ? What is the worst that will happen? She gets ousted? Well that is almost happening now!

  20. Gotta be David Davis as her replacement surely? Only candidate who isn’t too despised by either side. A “safe pair of hands” – just like Theresa …

    Well, I guess we’re in for Boris as PM….
    If anyone can pull off saying “sorry guys, it’s just not possible. We need another referendum,” it’s Boris. But given the loss of face involved in that, and the size of the relevant ego, my money’s on a hard brexit.’

    Would not be surprised with any change of mind with Boris.
    Prior to the Brexit referendum campaign he was all for Turkey joining the E.U.
    During the campaign he was campaigning on the dangers of Turkey joining and the millions of Turkish immigrants that could come here.
    After the campaign he said Britain would support Turkey joining the E.U. He flips more than a burger

    I can’t understand why she just doesn’t just sack BJ? What is the worst that will happen? She gets ousted? Well that is almost happening now!

    That’s my view. Can’t believe she wants to continue to put herself through this

  23. Andrew Myers,

    Yea, TM should have sacked him, arguably his conduct recently as a minister has been poor, then there is the brexit stuff.

  24. No, he has been rubbish, that poem and the bodies comment.


    A few more Labour gains at the expense of CON and UKIP last night in local government by-elections. Same pattern as a week previously.

  26. S Thomas, Colin

    Agree with you. The BBC is reporting:

    But Charles Walker, vice chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, told the BBC: “Number Ten must be delighted to learn that it’s Grant Shapps leading this alleged coup.
    “Grant has many talents but one thing he doesn’t have is a following in the party. So really I think this is now just going to fizzle out to be perfectly honest.
    “What you’re seeing here is probably the coalition of the disappointed people who think that their brilliant political talents have not been fully recognised, and really it doesn’t reflect well on them and it doesn’t reflect, in my view, well on Grant Shapps.”

    I think that sums it up rather well.

  27. TOH

    You forgot to add IMO there :-)

  28. I find myself in the extraordinary position of agreeing with Howard – or at least with his source, Charles Walker.

    I don’t see how Johnson wins a leadership contest as the MPs will prevent it. It does, however, present the ghastly dilemma of whether you’d rather have Johnson as PM or Leadsom, who could win the contest.

    Leadsom appears to have most of Johnson’s flaws – self-serving, dishonest, unreliable – without any of the talents.

    Fundamentally, the real problem is that May represents most of the traditional Conservative values and she can’t lead the party. The party is a shell. It doesn’t actually stand for almost any of the things it purports to stand for. Most importantly it isn’t actually conservative in any real way other than some social conservatism. It’s reckless. It is addicted to change for the sake of change. It is absolutely wedded to spin. It’s defined by what it’s against.

  29. The latest YouGov poll is up, marginal improvement for Tories
    LAB: 42% (-1)
    CON: 40% (+1)
    LDEM: 7% (-)
    UKIP: 4% (-)
    GRN: 2% (-)
    via @YouGov, 04 – 05 Oct

    As Prime Minister, Theresa May should…
    Stay: 39% (41%)
    Go: 38% (44%)
    That’s a 4% improvement for May from the last time YouGov asked the question.

    Best PM
    May 36% (37%)
    Corbyn 33%(29%)
    That’s a 5% improvement for Corbyn (successful conference?)
    There are a number of other questions, none of which show an improvement for May.

  30. TOH’

    “The latest YouGov poll is up, marginal improvement for Tories!”

    Good news Captain, I’ve been below and the damage from the Iceberg isn’t as bad as we thought!

    Actually, I have to say I do admire the way the Tories have constructed a way to remove a leader without those who do the dirty work risking their future careers.

    The 48 names to the 1922 committee lets you knife them in the dark and then turn up to cry at their funeral. Machiavelli has nothing on this lot!

    Part of the danger of course is that like the death of Caesar to prevent tyranny the outcome was civil war, bloodshed and……Tyranny!


  31. Was the YouGov poll conducted before or after the speech?

  32. I think the chances of May going in the short term are close to nil. Until there is clarity over brexit she is in post – unless she says “soddit”. Which would be a great Downing Street speech [imo…]

    I think John Pilgrim quoted Shakespeare earlier and I’m struck, once again, by the way in which the words, art or music of people of genius seems to be so obvious – as though they was already “there”.

    Take “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” for example: who couldn’t have written that?

    Well, despite the fact that it is both perfect AND perfectly obvious the answer is – everybody: except for William Shakespeare….

  33. somerjohn,
    “But a national catastrophe may prove cathartic”
    Not for the tories, catastrophic I think would be the word alone. Brexit can only work in voter terms if it works out well. If it goes badly not only will remain hold it against the tories, but those who voted for it will disown it and blame the politicians for misleading them that it could work.

    Andrew Myers,
    “I can’t understand why she just doesn’t just sack BJ”
    Because she needs him. She even needs ken clarke. The only way to get out of this is by coming to an agreement in a public debate. It isnt just the party which has to unite on a course of action, it has to take with it a majority of voters. And it cannot do either. Johnson tells leave supporters that someone in the party is fighting their corner. The more May tacks to soft brexit or even remain, the more important it becomes to try to convince leavers that the party has not forgotten them.

    In the referendum, the issue was to try to get voters to vote your way, leave or remain. But now the problem is to find a course of action which will meet with the approval of voters after it has been carried out. Its easy to say ‘leave’ when downplaying the negatives. But any government implementing it must expect electoral backlash if it goes wrong. Misleading voters before a vote is quite normal, but this is an all consuming issue and will not be quietly forgotten because it will impact voters for a generation. Even if we cancel Brexit right now, it will impact the Uk for a generation. It just keeps getting worse for the tories.

  34. “I see UK Polling Report has now started a thread on “How to Oust a Tory Leader”. Surely its all over for Theresa now …”


    I was expecting it to be a bit more Harry Palmer, but good thread title though.

  35. @JP

    Can certainly see that the EU labour market had its effect. We are of course leaving so to what effect it’s lasting is something else, and it’s not like Blair took us into the EU. Blair deciding not to bother with transitional immigration controls may have had an effect of course.

    The idea that repealing Clause IV and distancing the unions from the party a bit had a significant impact on the EU labour market seems a bit of a stretch though.

  36. @R HUCKLE

    I do not think this is about Europe per se. It reminds me of the issue that Corbyn faced. This is about electability and not policy

    The problem with electability being the issue is that proof of electability is rather hard to come by without an election and the tories are pretty much averse to having an election.

    Corbyn success was that he was able to show himself to electable. Presently the problem that the Tories have is that they do not believe they are electable or more precisely they can win an overal majority. What is even more galling to Tory perceptions is that a year ago Corbyn would have been considered the gift that keeps on giving and now there is an unshakable believe that he has touched a nerve and changed the nature of the debate.

    It is clear that this debate has changed as conservatives on this site have conceded issue that have not been on the Tories radar such as housing, student loans, JAMs etc and yet they have not been able to come up with policies that address the issues.

    Europe feels like it is the policy that divides the Tories but I think it goes much deeper than that. I fear that indeed these problems will not be resolved by a change of leadership in need a change in the party’s approach

    Corbyn ascendency give the template for changing the debate within a political organisation. It essentially needs a lot of new blood and I believe that is the Tories first problem.

    BoJo will not embody change, neither will any of the old guard, they are people of tripling student fees, no doing anyhting to sort out the housing market.

    Even the idea of blaming Labour for the lack of regulation of the banks would ring hollow against ‘marxist’ McD, Corbyn and all the shadow cabinet. it would be like saying Corbyn is responsible for Iraq.

    There needs to be sufficient difference from Tories of Cameron and Osborne to make people see that this is a different animal.

    Simply put I think she stays because no one wants to stick the knife in and no one want to deal with the consequences of sticking the knife in. They know it will not change the fundamental issues they face and a new leader does not solve these issues any better than May does.

    The egos of BoJo and possibly DD may come into play here but the debacle of the last leadership bid shows how difficult a leadership battle is. I would think that BoJo would want to stay on the sidelines until he is pushed into the ring bu at least 50MPs I don’t think he has 30 at the moment.

  37. more apt Shakespeare quotes?

    Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
    Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky
    Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull
    Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.
    (All’s Well that Ends Well)

    Our wills and fates do so contrary run
    That our devices still are overthrown;
    Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.

  38. @DANNY

    The problem is that the UK electorate want to have its cake and eat it.
    Take the question about payments, most people remainers and leavers do not want to pay anything to the EU. many people are not interested in the detail of brexit. They just want it done. They are expecting it to be simply put simple and do not understand what the issues are by just walking away.

    As I have said before there is an emotional attachment to leaving the EU. it needs not have a factual answer to the problem.

    John Harris of the guardian does the anywhere but Westminster and people whom voted leave are in the confusing position of being the winners but not sure what they have won.

    The tories problem is that they are now the party that has to implement brexit and make it work. it is the making it work thing that is the problem.

  39. Its all over for TM because what with the conference debacle we’re now into a period of endless, constant, speculation as to whether she has enough support, how long will she last, who is plotting, ad infinitum. Thats the no. 1 political news story at home and it will remain so until she goes.

    Portillo last night said she’d be gone by Christmas, and not for the first time.

    OK the timing isnt exactly ideal with A50 talks but as its clear they arent going to move on to future trade relations till next year the Tories would be better off dealing with this now and moving on.

  40. What if May loses a Tory confidence vote, and Labour then immediately called a vote of no confidence? The Tories would then be forced to show confidence in a leader they had just ousted.

  41. But a vote of confidence in the commons is about confidence in the govt, not the PM. They would win that easily because no Tory or DUP MP will want to give Corbyn a chance any sooner than they have to.

  42. @Baldbloke

    HM government is formed by an individual, who becomes PM. A vote of no confidence is explicitly about the government led by the PM.

    I’m sure the Tories would close ranks and defeat the no confidence vote, but they would look extremely stupid in the process. And some Tory MPs, or the DUP, might peel off if it looked like Bojo was about to win.

  43. TM

    I suspect that the palace coup is over. Not many dead.

    Pre planned by the legion of the losers who cannot believe that their talents have been dispensed with. Troops loyal to May have surrounded the Evening standard building where the loser in chief is holed up in his office trying desperately to erase the “May resigns ” headline from his organ.

    Plotter schnapps, as he likes to call himself now, last seen leaving th e HoC using a false identity(so no change there then).

  44. If there was a no confidence vote in May I very much doubt Labour would trigger a no confidence vote in the Government.
    It would give the Conservatives a chance to unite in the face of a common enemy.
    Their best bet would be to sit back and watch it all unwind in front of them

  45. TM.

    My guess is she will be gone in a week if she refuses to sack Boris.
    Gone by xmas if she does.

    I also feel Amber Rudd is being lined up as the chosen one of the two the members might get to vote for.

    I watched lots of her performances doing energy in select committees and I found her articulate and persuasive with a very difficult brief.

    She also took the hits well for TM in that election debate.

  46. Well as we are looking for apt Shakespeare quotes for a leadership challenge;

    “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war”.

    If we support the theory that the time to go is when the spokesman becomes the story rather than tells it, then we might be near the end game.

    Much like Brexit the clock is ticking and faced with a mess they can’t fix they are asking for more time.

    The Tories are in a situation where they are backing a leader they are saying is great when they know the public don’t. They want to get someone better before an election but until then have to pretend May is the best they’ve got which in turn might cost them all.

    A Rock and a Hard Place.

    The Rock Struggling on with a weak wounded leader, the Hard Place, a mucky challenge and contest with no likelihood of a better outcome.

    If it wasn’t the Tories I’d have sympathy.


  47. @ Peter (SNP)

    perhaps Shapps was thinking

    There is a tide in the affairs of men.
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
    Omitted, all the voyage of their life
    Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
    On such a full sea are we now afloat,
    And we must take the current when it serves,
    Or lose our ventures.

  48. Didn’t Rudd come roughly last in that recent poll of members?

    She only just managed to come first in her own constituency, which happens to be where I grew up and apart from 97 and the liberal landslide has been Tory forever. She might be saved by Brighton Uni pulling out of the town next year, and losing the student vote that turned out last time might help her claw some of that back if they can hold the election off for another year or so, but that is also hopeful. IMO.

    My main impression of her, gained from watching the leaders debate, is that she comes across as the sort of head mistress (or principal as they tend to call themselves these days, I believe) that tories of a certain age and gender get quite excited about, while still managing the startled small animal in headlights look when asked a direct question about anything other than strength and stability.

    Bozza, Moggzilla or mother Andrea would walk it against her, although in the case of the latter, (having had the pleasure of meeting a lot of the electorate and hearing some of their views while working in polling stations in a neighbouring constituency to Leadsom) I also think that the membership probably think they’ve done the token woman bit now and it’s time for a proper chap to take control.

    Mother Andrea might still appeal given that she’s as mad as a box of toads and seems to speak to the Howardian heartlands. Wow, wouldn’t that make for an entertaining few months.

    Unfortunately for them, and happily for the rest of us, sorting out the candidates for this one is going to require considerably more intelligence and cunning than any of them have demonstrated at any point over the last decade, and if I were feeling uncharitable I would admit that I am looking forward to watching it.

  49. TED

    “Didn’t Rudd come roughly last in that recent poll of members?”

    Yessss, but they only get to vote on the two offerings, and I suspect a safe but dull candidate will be favoured by those who choose.

    It is just a guess, it is who I would want if I was a conservative.

  50. I would have thought the Tories would be terrified of a repeat of 97. The longer this mess continues the more seats they are going to lose at the next election. Better to get the pain over with now

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