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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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How Will Tory Leadership Contest That Decides The Next Prime Minister Be Run?

The 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, chaired by Sir Graham Brady, will run the contest to whittle the party leadership candidates down to 2 (Alamy)

4 min read

With the number of declared candidates in double figures and a desire to get a new leader in place quickly, new rules for the Conservative leadership contest aim to expedite the election of a new Prime Minister.

The 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, which is in charge of running the primary, has confirmed the criteria for entering the race to replace Boris Johnson this evening after a new executive was put in place.

The system for choosing a new Tory leader begins with candidates getting nominated by their MP colleagues in the Commons tomorrow, and ends with a postal vote by around 200,000 party members with the new PM announced on 5 September.

In the middle, there is a series of votes by the Conservative Parliamentary Party, with the candidate who gets the lowest number of votes dropping out. Eventually, when there are two candidates left, they are placed in the run-off decided by Tory members.

The winner will be made party leader, and with a large majority in the Commons will travel to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen to form a new government with them at the head of it as Prime Minister – the fourth person to hold that role in just over six years.

In the last contest in 2019, there were 13 declared candidates, but only 10 managed to get the required eight nominations to get into the ballot.

In total five votes were needed to whittle the field down to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, as the 1922 Committee also stipulated there was a minus threshold to get through each round, meaning four candidates exited at the first hurdle.

In order to avoid a “Grand National-style” open race, this time around the minimum number of nominations needed to get into the contest will be raised to 20.

The new threshold was confirmed by Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee after agreeing the rules with the Conservative Party's board.

"We tried to strike a balance, we don't want to make it impossible for any serious candidates to enter the contest, we thought 20 was a number that anybody who has real support ought to be able to secure that number of MP supporters," Brady told Sky News. 

"But we also want to make sure we can move smoothly and reasonably quickly through the process, we didn't want to have a cast of thousands in the election."

As of Monday evening, that would see all candidates except Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat eliminated, though around half of Tory MPs are still yet to publicly endorse a candidate, so this could all change by 6pm on Tuesday evening, when nominations will close.

The committee wants to have the votes by MPs wrapped up well before the Commons rises for its summer recess next Thursday, so a higher threshold for remaining in the race will also be implemented.

Brady confirmed to the media that in order to stay in the contest, each candidate must get a minimum of 30 votes of MPs.

Bob Blackman, joint-executive secretary of the committee, told Sky News earlier: "We've got to slim down the list of candidates pretty quickly down to two.

"And the one thing that we're committed to do is to achieve getting to two candidates by Thursday 21 July.

"That means that we'll hold a succession of ballots over the next few days in order to get to that position."

The first vote will be held this Wednesday in one of the Commons committee rooms overlooking the Thames, with MPs placing their voting slips into the 1922's historic metal ballot box marked ‘CCO’.

Votes will then be held again on Thursday, with the remaining candidates facing three sets of hustings next Monday and a potential televised debate ahead of the planned final rounds of voting next Tuesday and Wednesday to cut the field down to two.

Blackman also said they will prevent a virtual coronation of a candidate as happened in 2016 with Theresa May, when her last remaining rival Andrea Leadsom quit the contest before the party members could cast their vote.

He said it is a "condition of nomination" for candidates to agree they will contest the final postal ballot if they reach the last two.

This is when officials at Conservative Central Office take over the process of balloting members and arranging hustings. In 2019 there were 16 in-person events in every corner of the UK, along with one digital-only event.

It is unclear how many will be arranged this time around, but Brady confirmed the party wants to complete the whole process before MPs return to Westminster on 5 September, despite some who are pushing for a shorter contest to reduce the time Johnson remains in office as caretaker PM.

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