Protesters take part in a march calling for Britain to rejoin the European Union, in London, on October 22, 2022. A lot of Britons are beginning to wonder why they are not getting a chance to influence who is their next leader. Image Credit: REUTERS

LONDON: Observers of Britain’s governing structure can be forgiven for scratching their heads in recent weeks as they watch the country reel through a succession of prime ministers without holding an election. While the opposition Labour Party is demanding an election, the governing conservatives are pushing on with choosing another prime minister from within their own ranks, which they have the right to do because of the way Britain’s parliamentary democracy works.


Britain is divided into 650 local constituencies, and people tick a box for the representative they want to become their local member of parliament, or MP. In most cases, this will be a member of one of the country’s major political parties.

The party that wins the majority of seats gets to form a government, and that party’s leader automatically becomes prime minister. While coalitions are possible, Britain’s voting system favours the two largest parties and in most cases a single party will take an absolute majority of seats, as is the case for the Conservatives in the current Parliament.


Since 1922, all of Britain’s 20 prime ministers have come from either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party. This means the members of these parties have an outsized influence on who will be the country’s prime minister. The processes the parties use to choose them can appear Byzantine.

Deep breath: For the Conservative Party, their lawmakers must first signal their support for a potential leader. If there is enough support, this person will become an official candidate. All Conservative MPs then cast a series of votes, gradually whittling down the number of candidates to two. Finally, the party’s ordinary members — around 180,000 of them — vote between these two candidates. Last time they chose Liz Truss over Rishi Sunak.

If the MPs are able to unite behind a single candidate then there is no need for the wider party members to have a vote. This last happened in 2016 when the lawmakers backed Theresa May after the resignation of David Cameron and she automatically became prime minister. This could happen again.


According to new regulations announced on Thursday candidates competing to become next prime minister will need the backing of at least 100 Conservative Party lawmakers to enter the parliamentary stage of the contest, which will take place. The high threshold means a maximum of three candidates will make it to the first stage. Nominations close at 1300 GMT on Monday.

If only one candidate meets the threshold, that candidate will be declared the winner on Monday, organisers said.

If two candidates make it to the ballot, the party’s wider membership will decide the winner in an online ballot.

Any third candidate will be eliminated in a ballot of lawmakers, leaving two to go forward to the online vote, with the winner declared Friday October 28.

Before members vote, lawmakers will hold an indicative vote on the two candidates, making clear the preferred choice of Conservative lawmakers.

The Labour Party has its own process that is, arguably, even more complicated.


Johnson was selected by his party following the resignation of Theresa May. He had already been prime minister for five months when electors ticked their ballot cards in December 2019. However, voters’ support for the Conservative Party did cement his position as prime minister.

Even in that election, though, it was only actually around 70,000 people who got the chance to vote directly for or against Johnson -- those who happened to live in his Parliamentary constituency of Ruislip and South Uxbridge, in west London.

Since then, another prime minister, Liz Truss, has come and gone, and one more will be in place by the end of next week -- all without anyone troubling the general electorate.


Constitutionally, no general election is required in Britain for two more years. But as the prime ministers come and go, selected by a tiny proportion of the population, a lot of Britons are beginning to wonder why they are not getting a chance to influence who is their next leader. The clamour for a general election in the near future is only likely to get louder.