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« Matthew Parris applauds David Davis but endorses David Cameron | Main | Hague to back Fox? Howard to abandon Cameron? IDS to stop Davis? »



Quote right (or rather - better than what is proposed. I prefer the CH idea of full US-style primaries!)

Sometimes us poor members wonder why we bother to put in any effort at all.

No, not sometimes. Lately, it's been every day.

William Norton

How about this idea for a primary-style structure?

A reasonably high threshold for nominations from MPs - say higher of 15% and 40 MPs. (Weed out the chaff. A field of five or six is a reasonable enough spread.)

Nominees would have the right to mailshot all members, and there would be regional/area hustings. The £25,000 limit would have to be increased - but I think we would prefer a faster timescale.

Members would vote, not for their preferred Leader, but to assess whether a candidate had clearance to proceed further. In other words, members would have the same number of votes as there are candidates, but only cast a vote if they considered the candidate to be a potential Prime Minister and consented to them going forward. (You would, of course, be limited to one vote per candidate.)

So, if out of a slate of five candidates I considered Mr A unacceptable, Mr B inexperienced, Mr C and Mr D more or less alright, and I really wanted Mr E to be Leader, I would withhold any votes for A & B, and vote for C, D & E.

MPs would then select the Leader from the two highest ranking candidates, plus any other candidate receiving clearance to proceed from 50% of those members who voted. Successive elimination rounds would be used if more than 2 candidates survive the primaries.

This system allows
(a) MPs to have the final say - if that's important for you;
(b) Members to have a crucial involvement and express the balance of opinion in the wider party - which is presumably the idea behind the fatuous 'ranking' proposal;
(c) minimises the "IDS Factor" of X being elected 'solely' because he isn't Y - but allows an early "blackball" principle to apply;
(d) minimises the risk of a Leader with divided authority - whoever gets through to the end will demonstrably have a very broad support in the party.

Views, any one?


I like your thinking, William.

I suggest two amendments, though...

(1) The 15%/ 40 MPs threshold seems too high. Of the current field only three (perhaps only two) MPs could get that level of support. A 20 MPs threshold (10%) would ensure grassroots members got a real choice.

(2) Having previously advocated an open primary system - whereby non-party members would be consulted - I think your hustings stage should involve open meetings at which indicative votes would take place. These open meetings should take place in marginal seats and/ or before audiences of target voters.

Your overall proposal would ensure members are respected and MPs get the final say that a majority of them appear to want. With my addition we also find out which candidates can best appeal to floating voters.


I'll through in another twist to the above excellent posts--that the nominations NOT be confined to sitting MPs. Rather, the MPs or the electors should be free to choose anyone, including non-MPs, as leader.

One remembers how Michael Portillo and other heavyweights lost out on their chance for leadership after John Major's defeat due to the loss of their own seats. This is not to hold a brief for Mr. Portillo et al., but shouldn't the party nominate the best person as leader? In practice, just about all nominations would go to sitting MPs, but if the best person is a talented outsider, why overlook that person?

The Canadian Progressive Conservative Party went to a non-MP, Brian Mulroney, and won its biggest electoral victory ever. The California Republican Party nominated an outsider, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and swept to victory. The Tories could nominate that outsider, and if they can't arrange a retirement and a safe seat in a by-election, they don't deserve power anyway.


Definitely. The idea of a true outsider is SO attractive.

But we'll never do it. Turkeys voting for Christmas.

Simon C

An electoral college is the minimum level of democracy that's acceptable. Leaving aside everything else, there is a fair dealing issue here - we have been selling membership on the basis that members have a direct say in the leadership.

By the by, Liam Fox in today's Times seemed to be supporting a primary-based system.

If however this genuinely is about the way we "do politics" as a party, then, to my surprise, I have come to the view that we need to be much more radical in that I would advocate an entirely open primary system.

This would involve a national advertising campaign inviting people to register as Conservative voters (they would need to sign a declaration that they were not members or supporters of other political parties).

We could also use existing pledges and Voter Vault to identify potential registered voters.

There should be regional hustings and televised debates between the candidates.

Any MP with the support of 15% of MPs would be eligible.

This would be a huge positive for the party. It would engage voters in areas where we need to win seats. Cities where we have no representation would have a voice. We would in effect be asking a large chunk of the electorate who it would like to see as the next Conservative Prime Minister. The winner, in a media age, would have to be an excellent media performer.

It would be consistent with our core brand value "trust the people" as opposed to the current offering: "trust the people (but not our own members)". Modernisers are frightfully keen on consistent brand values and I am inclined to agree.

It should also help attract many new members into the party.

It would make Labour's next leadership contest, with a Union block vote in the electoral college, look daated and undemocratic.

EU Serf

....It would engage voters in areas where we need to win seats. Cities where we have no representation would have a voice.....

One of the biggest problems of having MPs vote is the total lack of representation of contituencies we need to win and an overrepresentation of those that we would still win even if the leader were a Chimp.

Simon C

What is the actual constitutional/procedural situation in relation to this? I have heard it said that, if there isn't a rule change agreed soon, the leadership election will have to take place under the existing rules. Is that right? What's the timescale?


I don't know what the timescale is Simon (other than folks will soon be exhausted and accept anything) but two-thirds votes are needed to overturn the present system which is the default option. MPs vote by secret ballot tomorrow and Wednesday to retake control themselves.

Simon C

That's 2/3 of MPs presumably? If they vote to take control themselves, does that then need to be agreed by the National Convention, or is that the end of it?

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