Getting Rid of a Tory Party Leader Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Getting Rid of a Tory Party Leader

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A Conservative party rosette and an exit door!

You are a Conservative1 MP in the united Kingdom who believes that your leader is not doing a good job and you want to get rid of them. Read on to find out how.

The Petition

Your first step towards triggering a leadership challenge is to get 15% of Tory MPs to sign a letter to the chairman of the 1922 Backbench Committee2 signalling your lack of confidence in the leader. The 1922 Committee will then call for a vote of no confidence in the leader.

The Vote

If over half the incumbent Tory MPs vote against the current leader, s/he is forced to stand down and an election takes place to choose a new leader.

A New Leader

Of course, once you've got rid of your leader, you now have to find a new one and this starts with MPs announcing whether they intend to stand for the leadership. If more than one MP announces their intention to become leader, a contest is held. All Conservative MPs vote on which person they would like to become leader and at the end of the ballot the person with the least votes is eliminated3. A new ballot is held and another person is eliminated. This continues until only two are left. Every paid-up member of the Tory Party is then allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice - and the MP that receives the highest number of votes becomes leader.

Other Ways

Of course, leaders of the Tory Party have been known to leave after General Election defeats or just when they've decided enough is enough. So don't give up hope if you aren't be able to get rid of your leader this time round; it'll happen eventually.

History of the Leadership Challenge and Elections

There have been many reforms of the Tory leadership elections and ways of challenging the leader since 1965, when the leadership ballot was opened to all MPs4. Here is a short history, both of the reforms, and memorable moments:

  • 1965 - 'Magic Circle' abolished. The ballot was opened to all Tory Members of Parliament and Edward Heath won.

  • 1975 - After losing two General Elections in the same year (February and October 19745), Heath was forced to hold a leadership election. He lost and was replaced by Margaret Thatcher.

  • 1989 - Sir Anthony Meyer became the first MP in history to challenge the leadership of a Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Not that he was successful, he got just 33 votes in the vote of no confidence6.

  • 1990 - Michael Heseltine successfully challenged Mrs Thatcher's leadership. Well, sort of. She actually won the vote, but Cabinet wouldn't back her, so she stepped down. John Major beat Heseltine in the ensuing leadership contest.

  • 1995 - John Major took the odd step of resigning as PM and standing for the leadership again. He did this in order to make a point to the less loyal members of the party, who were beginning to grumble about his leadership. He won, but went on to lose the next General Election.

  • 1998 - William Hague reformed the election, making the last round open to all members of the Tory Party. The new system was first used in 2001, when Iain Duncan-Smith won against Ken Clarke.

1The Conservatives are often referred to as Tories.2A committee which comprises all members of the Tory Backbench (ie, those who aren't part of its Government or Shadow Government) and who oversee the Tory Party elections. The 1922 Committee, named after the year it was established, is very influential in Tory Party politics and should a senior member of the Tory Party lose the confidence of the committee, they are expected to resign.3This caused problems for the 1922 Committee in 2001, when two people received the fewest votes. It was decided that a new ballot should be held.4Before then, there was the 'Magic Circle', where consultations were made among senior Tories over who would be best for the job.5In the first election, there was a 'Hung Parliament' - no party had a clear majority. Harold Wilson, Labour Leader, had just four more MPs than the Tories, and decided to call a new election later that year, uneasy about the coalition he had with the Liberals.6Sir Anthony Meyer was what's known as a 'stalking horse' candidate. He had no real chance of winning, but wanted to make a point and open the floodgates for others to challenge the leadership.

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