Search icon


14th Nov 2018

How does a Conservative leadership contest work?

Theresa May is skating on thin ice

Wayne Farry

Theresa May could soon face a Conservative leadership contest from her MPs

Under the rules of the Conservative party, Theresa May could soon be ousted from her position as Tory leader and prime minister if enough of her MPs make a vote of no-confidence against her.

Her position as prime minister continues to be under threat from Eurosceptics within her party, including the vocal Jacob Rees-Mogg and currently out-of-government former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

On Tuesday, May was part of a five-hour cabinet meeting; a meeting in which it is rumoured that she struggled to gain support for her draft Brexit agreement. The result of this has been increased speculation that a no-confidence vote against May could soon be on the horizon.

How does a Conservative leadership contest begin?

If May’s opponents seek to oust her from her position as Tory leader and prime minister, then they will need 15 per cent of the Conservative Party’s members of parliament to write a letter to the chairman of the party’s 1922 committee. There are 315 Tory MPs, so that means 48 letters.

How does the confidence vote work?

Should a confidence vote be called, all serving MPs for the Conservative Party will be able to cast a vote either for or against May.

If she wins the ballot then she will remain in charge of the party and the country and another contest cannot be triggered for the next 12 months.

If May loses the vote, then the chairman, Graham Brady, will invite nominations for the role. Candidates for leadership must be nominated by two Conservative MPs. In this instance, May would be barred from participating as a candidate.

MPs will vote on a list of candidates in secret. The vote repeats in quick succession – every Tuesday and Thursday. Each time the politician with the lowest number of votes is removed until just two candidates remain.

From there, people who have been members of the Conservative Party for more than three months receive a postal vote to choose a leader out of the two.

What is the 1922 committee?

Formally known as the Conservative Private Members’ Committee, the committee is made up of Tory backbenchers who meet weekly to speak independently of the party’s frontbenchers.

For the last eight years, the committee has extended open invitations to Tory frontbenchers, though its executive membership and officers are restricted to backbenchers.