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. Well, not quite Shakespeare but maybe this sums up what’s going on within the Tory Party.

    Fill in your own choice of senior Tories to fit the parts.


  2. The problem with picking Rudd as leader is that even a small swing to Labour in the next GE means that she is toast. The Tories surely won’t take the risk of their leader being decapitated – even if they ultimately end up as the largest party still.

  3. Meanwhile in the real world looks like both parties didn’t receive any bounce from there conferences dispite all the euphoric happy slapping Labour youth wings adoration of the leader and the equally negativity in the press and television of the Tory conference both parties remain neck and neck.

    If I were either leader I would wonder if a GE was forced ,how would I actually win a majority .

    Incidentally although no longer a Tory party activist due to a move across the pond I can say in my old part of Devon the local Tory party have nothing but contempt for Mr Shapps nor is there any support to replace TM however in many party members eyes the real turnoff has been Boris the likelihood of him ever being elected leader has much diminished.

  4. Shapps on R4 this morning saying he wants to be PM, and explaining his relevant experience.

    :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)

    Baroness Varsi advised him to “Shut Up”. Haven’t agree with her for some time-so thats a welcome change.

  5. If – when there is a leadership election, the grandees will engineer Davies and Rudd as the final two and Daives will win.


  6. Reggieside is probably right but, as a party leader usually gets a boost in an election, Rudd will probably survive if she is chosen. It is possible, but not probable, that Tory MPs will choose 2 Remainers as the shortlist to get us out of a messy Brexit.

  7. Some one-Varsi I think-said today if Cons are mad enough to change Leader now they will have to go to the Electorate. The public would demand it.

    Which begs the question-would Labour demand to be given the Brexit poisoned challice ?

    Haven’t heard the Shadow Cabinet demanding that May must go……..hmmm?

  8. I’m not sure how a change of leader helps the Tories, apart from bringing to a head more swiftly the decades long European fracture in the party.

    Replacing TM would be like smashing your car into brick wall, writing it off, and saying after replacing a light bulb it’s good to go.

  9. Colin

    The shadow cabinet is too busy laughing to make any statement about TM

  10. @Princess Rachel

    What concerns me is that while I am not in the Conservative Party fan club, I recognise at this time we desperately need the Government of whatever shade to be effective and deal with the many pressing issues the UK faces.

    My gut feeling is we are facing a long period of uncertain and incoherent governance that doesn’t help anyone.

    An PM leading the country well is not one that has to pop up in the media every five minutes to say they are providing leadership.

  11. “Haven’t heard the Shadow Cabinet demanding that May must go……..hmmm?”


    It’s possible that no one near the seat of power and fears the Brexit outcome wants her to go and the only people seriously angling for it are quite a long way from it and not even in the government any more.

    Corby should be sending Theresa regular supplies of cough medicine and a stencil for signs in future. Maybe he can give her some spare policies too. I mean, Miliband’s clearly already doing that…

  12. @TURK

    I think battle line are more or less set until brexit is done in my view we are just as divided as we were on the referendum which is why people are sticking to their votes. It really does not matter how badly the Tory screw up those that voted leave cannot abandon them because that would mean that we would not be leaving. same for remain it is not that they have a choice or can look past brexit. Although I believe looking at the polls the Labour voters have more concerns than brexit. Tory voters are pretty much brexit, immigration and then it is not clear. life after brexit will be interesting

    May in my view is safe because no one could agree on anyone else

  13. I think the EU should, or will, ask for a postponement in the next round of Exit talks until the Tory leadership situation is stabilised.

    I believe it was the UK who asked for the 1-week postponement last month, but it is now in the EU`s interest not to waste their negotiators` time in considering proposals that a new UK leader might disown.

    Besides, the EU leaders ought to be trying to help calm down the Spanish rebellion, not grappling with the UK`s progress, or not, towards trade talks.

    But if postponement is planned or possible, then surely the uncertainty about EU citizens` rights should be resolved – everyone here up to 2019 should be guaranteed to stay permanently.

  14. Quote from BBC news;

    “Theresa May has said she has the “full support of her cabinet” after a former party chairman said there should be a leadership contest.”

    Doesn’t that remind you of a long line of Football Managers who claimed they had the Chairman, Board and the Players “Full Support” just before they got sacked.

    There is always the feeling that if you have to say you have the support of your colleagues you probably don’t.

    As to Labour, whether it is a smart move or not Corbyn will jump at the chance of an election, not because he is desperate for one, not because he is sure he will win or because he wants to be PM.

    Corbyn believes and has since before Thatcher in his vision of a better socialist Britain and he will take any chance he can get to further that vision.

    What those who try to apply Real Politick to corbyn forget is that he is a Fundamentalist.

    Even if you think his policies are wrong, or flawed and undeliverable, there is no doubt he believes in them in a way that no UK Party leader since Thatcher and foot has.


  15. “My gut feeling is we are facing a long period of uncertain and incoherent governance that doesn’t help anyone.”


    We don’t tend to have that kind of politician lately. They can do basic stuff but when it gets complicated…

    For example, Nulab. They could make some basic changes to education, like introducing the literacy and numeracy hours, which had a positive effect. You could see the results increase immediately after their introduction. And it’s no surprise if you make sure there’s some maths and literacy every day where before there may have been rather less.

    But watch the results largely plateau thereafter despite hundreds of directives.

    Similarly Gove getting rid of coursework eliminates an often easy way people could get others to do the work for them. But once you’ve picked the low-hanging fruit, it gets much harder and the politicians don’t know what to do. In wartime of course, they hand much over to experts in each field.

    But the politicians have to be smart enough to pick the right experts, as opposed to those whose views chime with the politicians, which is more what seems to happen lately.

    A sort of Dunning-Kruger-by-proxy.

  16. I apologise for setting a Shakespeare stone rolling…..

  17. Colin
    Lab seem to have at last discovered the sense to let sleeping dogs lie, or frisky ferrets fight it out between themselves or something, I’d forgotten that Warsi is now upstairs, it would have been fun chucking her into the mix as a potential leader. What about Priti Patel?

    Yep, agreed, but we also desperately needed the government to either not mess up the Brexit referendum and they made a good job of that, didn’t they?

    With even Laura K joining in the speculation we have surely reached the tipping point. Unless something happens in the world to distract the media in the meantime I stand by my prediction of sometime between Wednesday morning and the end of the week for some sort of announcement to be made.

  18. Dunning Kruger and more Shakespeare (sorry)

    “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” (As you like it)

  19. @ theexterminatingdalek

    I am curious why Wednesday morning? If to avoid PMQs surely she would go earlier, I could understand Thursday morning after PMQ,s especially of, as a suspect, there will be lots of offers of Lockets and other “hilarious”* antics from the Labour benches.

    *Just to make it clear I heartily disapprove of the yah boo approach to this weekly episode of Parliamentary theatre.

  20. no four attempts and I cat understand why it s going into automod

    AW a list of outlawed words, as other suggest, would b useful!

  21. “I apologise for setting a Shakespeare stone rolling…..”


    “Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones…”


  22. @WB

    AW would like to post a list of banned words, but that post was automoded…

  23. Yougov poll was conducted on 4-5 October.

    The picture seems to be that the collapse of UKIP has negated a very impressive rise in popularity for Labour.

    It’s at least possible that this focus group was representative re: May’s conference speech-

    “She coped with it really well.”

    “To be honest I just thought – I didn’t write anything about the cough. I just thought, pretty normal thing you know, it just occurred you know. I can’t believe people were being horrible about it.”

    “It’s very difficult to say sorry in public so I thought she came across very well there.”

    The Tories might not want to leap to another leader unless they’re sure that they have a better option.

  24. DavWel

    I think the EU should, or will, ask for a postponement in the next round of Exit talks until the Tory leadership situation is stabilised.

    With things as they stand [pauses to check BBC website] I’d be surprised and disapproving if they did, as it would be tantamount to suggesting they don’t believe TM will survive as PM and that could be construed as an attempt to influence the make-up of a country’s government.

  25. Colin

    Labour would be in a bit of a pickle if they pointed out that some Tory MP’s wanted May out when not a year ago practically all the Labour MP’s wanted Corbyn sacked including most of his front bench.

  26. Turk,

    the difference is that Labour have no mechanism for the PLP to remove the leader. What the Labour MPs did was not in zee rules.

    In contrast as explained above there is a clear route for the conservative PLP to remove their leader.

  27. Mark W:

    Tenuous. Most don’t know nor care about Conservative rules, just comparisons. That isn’t going to persuade any real voters/

  28. Warsi has never been anywhere else other than “upstairs”. She fought Dewsbury and lost, and then got a peerage. Similar story to Sandip Verma

  29. MarkW

    Regardless of Labour MP’s inabilities to sack leaders, in a matter of trust Corbyn was far more disliked and probably still is by his MP’s than May currently is .So for Corbyn to claim May must go on a matter of trust of her party would be hypocritical to say the least.

  30. Turk, some may agree with your sentiment, but the facts are not tenuous, there is a clear route available.

    The public may not know zee rules I think that is changing rapidly as the media get stuck in.

  31. CBX1985, Does it matter if the public don’t know the rules ? It’s the PLP that vote.

  32. Leaked letter

    Dear Chairman,

    It is my sad duty to tell you that the following members feel that our well respected Prime minister needs to confirm her support by standing in a forthcoming election. I have canvassed widely in combination with the Evening Standard

    Grant snapps
    Tweety pie
    Captain Pugwash
    Roger the Cabin Boy

    I trust you will lodge this letter in the appropriate place

    yours faithfully (sic)


  33. S Thomas, TM cannot stand.

  34. Labour silence

    Masterful or hamstrung?

    well which of the 150 plus labour members who said Jezza was a joke and should stand down is going to come and comment on TM?

    Regicide is colour blind

  35. @Turk – I appreciate you are waving the blue flag here (although, frankly speaking, this isn’t isn’t the place for that) but I seem to recall you forecast a matter of 2 days ago that May had buried any talk of a challenge and she was now safe?

    Likewise, talking of poll stasis now is far too soon to make any judgements. The DT is reporting a poll showing another 5% drop in the gap between Corbyn and May as best PM, with Corbyn now only 3% behind on 33/36. That movement has occurred in the last week I gather.

    Very often we have seen big events followed by modest immediate poll reactions only, with the big effects kicking in as the meme develops and the media rolls on.

    I suspect that is likely to be the story here – although I don’t know anything for sure.

    All I do know is that Cons are now in crisis, and these leadership crises tend to rumble on and on. I was going to say at this point, ‘…..with only one outcome’. However, Corbyn here defied the odds and the tradition. His leadership was doomed, but only until his party members undoomed it, and then the electorate chipped in and secured it.

    May doesn’t have that option. If she goes, she’s gone, and the rules won’t allow her to be saved.

    Conservatives are on a one way street now, and a new leader beckons I fear.

  36. Mark

    As far as I know there isn’t any mechanism for removing a Labour leader. Imagine if there had been a way the membership could remove a leader? Iraq might never have happened


    Just in case people weren’t aware that there is something deeply wrong in society.

    Interesting also to see today’s productivity data. It really is beginning to look like we’ve chosen a bad time to leave the EU.

  38. Princess Rachel.

    Iraq without TB? Same horror I expect but our hands would have been cleaner.

    Maybe some Lab rule changes ahead will give members the right to be involved with leadership challenges?

  39. Markw

    Leaked letter

    That Shapps doesnt even know the rules of the election he is trying to bring about.!
    I can only conur with Colin that he is a complete and utter( thats enough-AW)

  40. There seems to be some form of blue amnesia here. Corbyn was challenged by the PLP and a new election for leader was held, which he won.

  41. Interesting that shapps is having his character so maligned. The left has been banging on about this for donkeys years with the Tories telling us there was nothing to see. Now we find out that they knew he was a wrong un’ all the time.

  42. You do wonder, looking at the ineptitude of these Tory plotters, whether when they leave the revolver on May’s desk they would remember to load the bullets in it first.

  43. Alec

    “t really is beginning to look like we’ve chosen a bad time to leave the EU.”

    it would imply that there would be a good time.

    Anyway, in Sunday the DO declared that there was not enough progression, so no trade talks (the Commission could ignore it, but unlikely), and now give countries rejected the concept of quota sharing between the EU and the UK post-Brexit (which was the only successful negotiations between the EU and the UK). Reading the text, it’s not only agricultural goods.

  44. I don’t think we should intrude upon private grief.

  45. Yes Norman,

    The PLP (MEPs count as well I think) can force a contest if 15% of them nominate someone else.

    I guess the reality is that if the 15% Tory MOS trigger a confidence vote and the PM gets less than around 70% she would go.

    FWIW, I agree with those saying May is safe for some time unless she decides she has had enough and who could blame her. She may decide to go once the EU have agreed the ‘about’ 2 year transition.

    Shapps is odious imo but Boris Johnson is responsible I think for leadership issues resurfacing having lay dormant since a month or so after the GE.

    In normal times Johnson would be out and deservedly so but these ain’t normal times.

  46. passtherockplease,
    “The problem is that the UK electorate want to have its cake and eat it.”

    So can I have one of your rock buns? Of course they do! and why not, the politicians ahve promised it to them.

  47. I think either May of Johnson will be gone at the weekend. If its the latter I still think she will be gone by christmas.

  48. markw


    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.”

    Mark: I feel almost embarrassed to say who I would “prefer” as Tory leader [I suppose the honest answer would be Grant Shapps…] but I do find something very straightforward with Amber Rudd and think she would have been a far better choice than Theresa May in the first place. I oarticularly liked the way she told Johnson off and insisted he stand and support TM’s coughing fit like everybody else.

    I think most people would find it hard to list her “achievements” as Home Secretary – but not so hard as coming up with a list of one as Prime Minister. She just seems empty to me and will be forever summed up with platitudes such as “I am clear that” and “Strong and stable” – but backed up with a complete ideological vacuum [even one I could disapprove of.]

  49. passtherock

    Apologies for this, but two rules of thumb that might assist you [some of us discussed this recently.]

    1/ “Whom” is almost always likely to be wrong, as its use is relatively rarely required.

    2/ Using “who” instead of “whom” is much easier to tolerate than the opposite – which really, really jars.**

    ** Hence my being pedantic enough to mention it !!

  50. “I particularly liked the way she told Johnson off and insisted he stand and support TM’s coughing fit like everybody else.”

    tee hee

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