Conservative leadership race

Second Round vote: May 199; Leadsom 84; Gove 46 (out)

Conservative leadership contests are never dull affairs. Tactical voting, informal alliances, briefings and counter-briefings by candidates to the media are all par for the course. The 2016 vintage has not disappointed. Liam Fox, Stephen Crabb and now Michael Gove are out; Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom are through to the final cut.

May enjoys the support of well over half the parliamentary party. But a front-runner has not won a Conservative leadership contest since Anthony Eden in 1956. So expect further twists and turns. While it has loomed large in the background, the outcome of this contest is not just about Brexit. For the first time since John Major in 1992, a political party is holding a contest to choose who will be the next UK Prime Minister.

Choosing the next PM: the 150,000

A ballot of the entire Conservative Party Membership will now determine the winner. Leadsom and May are expected to take part in 11 hustings over the summer, with the announcement scheduled for 9th September.

So who are Conservative Party members?

The size of the current party membership is a little hazy. The number is thought to range between 130,000 and 150,000. Non-party members hoping to join today in order to have a say in the outcome will be disappointed: strict rules stipulate that only those who’ve been members for three months or more can vote.

The most up-to-date study of Conservative Party membership was conducted in 2015 by the Economic and Social Research Council. It found the following:

  • More than half of party members are over 60;
  • 55% live in London and the South-West;
  • 70% are male;
  • Over a third have been to University.

In The Times this morning, Philip Collins argues that our democracy is badly served by such a tiny number of people choosing our next PM – “these members are not representative of the people who vote for the party, let alone the nation”.

With neither May nor Leadsom likely to call a General Election anytime soon, we will have to trust that Conservative members make the right choice.

 What the choice of leader could mean for the UK’s domestic policy agenda

This is still a little unclear. So, to give some navigation on what a May or Leadsom Premiership could mean for the UK and our preparations to leave the EU, Headland has developed a short guide below showing where each candidate stands on the big issues awaiting them in the Number 10 in-tray.

Theresa May - “Bloody difficult woman”

Home Secretary
MP for Maidenhead since 1997

Triggering Article 50
  • Britain should not trigger Article 50 before it is clear about its negotiating stance on a post-Brexit deal with the European Union
  • No early General Election

 Freedom of Movement

  • Controls on freedom of movement
  • Committed to maintaining access to the Single Market, but acknowledges the difficulty in negotiation

Economic plans

  • Declared there will be no emergency budget to deal with Brexit

Domestic policy agenda

  • Previously pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act, but has since backtracked
  • Pledged to bring back collective Cabinet government and set up a parliamentary policy board
  • Stance on immigration appeals to the Conservative right
  • Considered one of the modernising forces during the Conservatives' wilderness years, famously telling Tory activists they were seen as the "nasty" party over their perceived intolerance of minorities
  • Previously campaigned for more women to enter Parliament

Andrea Leadsom  - “Babies, Banks and Brussels”

Energy Minister
MP for South Northamptonshire since May 2010

Triggering Article 50

  • Will trigger Article 50 immediately after becoming PM – has said the UK should leave the EU “with urgency”
  • No early General Election

Freedom of Movement

  • End freedom of movement and install a quota system determined by Parliament
  • Committed to “protect” people from the EU already living in the UK

Economic plans

  • Has previously supported the break-up of big banks
  • Promised a quick decision on airport expansion to give business certainty

Domestic policy agenda

  • Wants to “wage a war against political correctness”
  • Historic opposition to HS2 likely to continue
  • Is passionate about her belief in the power of early years education. Has pledged to commit extra funding to this cause
  • Has promised to stand up for working mothers
  • Pro- grammar schools
  • Socially conservative – did not vote for same-sex marriage
  • Wants to make positive discrimination illegal

 Will one of these candidates be in Number 10 next week?

Already, there is much debate about the pros and cons of a lengthy leadership contest over the summer. Forty-two Conservative MPs yesterday signed a letter to Party Chairman Lord Feldman of Elstree calling for the timetable to be truncated in the “interests of the nation”.

Leadsom is also likely to come under significant pressure to withdraw and there are calls in the media this morning for May to offer Leadsom a senior Cabinet post in return for pulling out of the contest.

One person unlikely to favour a “coronation” is Oliver Lewin. Letwin, along with senior civil servant Oliver Robbins, is in charge of the newly created BREXIT Unit, responsible for laying out the facts and options for the next Prime Minister.  Appearing in front of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this week, Letwin was accused by MPs of showing negligence by not preparing contingency plans for a Vote leave.

With the next Prime Minister, and the public, likely to demand immediate answers post-election, Letwin will surely favour more time to identify solutions.