How does the Conservative Party elect a leader, and who is running?

Theresa May is a frontrunner in the election
Theresa May is a frontrunner in the election

The Conservative party has begun the process of electing a new leader and presumptive prime minister, after David Cameron said he would resign following the country’s vote last week to leave the European Union.

The five candidates who were nominated yesterday will now go forward to a vote of Conservative MPs on July 5. The candidate with the least support in that vote will be eliminated. MPs will vote again on July 7 and July 12, until only two candidates remain.

The final two candidates will then be put to a vote of the party’s membership of around 150,000 people. Only those who were members when the leadership election was called and who had been members for at least three months before the ballot closes are allowed to vote.

The winner-the candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote, will be announced on September 9.


Theresa May, 59, Remain campaigner

The home secretary is odds on favourite to become the next leader. She won the support of two more cabinet ministers on Friday- Michael Fallon and Patrick McLoughlin – and the endorsement of the Daily Mail for her candidacy to succeed David Cameron.

The state-school educated daughter of a Church of England vicar, May is an Oxford University graduate who began her career at the Bank of England, before becoming a local councillor.

She entered parliament in 1997 and in 2002 became the first female chairman of the Conservative party, when she gained a reputation as a reformer for saying that Conservatives needed to shed their reputation as the “nasty party”.

A party stalwart seen as a safe pair of hands, May is the clear bookmakers’ favourite since ex-London mayor Johnson dramatically pulled out of the race on Thursday.

She has won praise within the party for her handling of the law-and-order portfolio for the last six years – the longest period of any politician for a century in a job which is often described as the cabinet’s most challenging role.

However, she has also come under criticism for her department’s failure to meet a promise made by Cameron to bring net migration below 100,000 a year, with current levels more than three times that.

She was also responsible for the contraversial billboard campaign, telling illegal immigrants to “Go home or face arrest.” While May backed Britain remaining in the EU, she did not play a high profile role in the referendum campaign. She has pitched herself as the unity candidate, with her leadership bid being run by leading Brexit campaigner Chris Grayling.

“Brexit means Brexit,” said May at the launch of her leadership campaign.

“The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.”

Michael Gove is running for Tory leader
Michael Gove is running for Tory leader

Michael Gove, 48, Brexit campaigner

Gove was brought up in Scotland and studied at Oxford University before becoming a journalist. He worked at the BBC and the Times newspaper, where he was assistant editor.

He was also chairman of the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange before being elected to parliament in 2005. Now justice secretary, Gove also served as education secretary for four years.

Gove was a leading campaigner for Brexit alongside former London mayor Boris Johnson, who he had been expected to support for the party leadership before his surprise announcement on Thursday that he did not believe Johnson was up to the job.

He was nominated for the leadership by his successor as education secretary, Nicky Morgan, who campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU, and Brexit campaigner Dominic Raab, who is a junior minister in his justice department.

“The British people voted for change last Thursday. They sent us a clear instruction that they want Britain to leave the European Union and end the supremacy of EU law. They told us to restore democratic control of immigration policy and to spend their money on national priorities,” he said in an article for the Spectator on why he was standing.

“There are huge challenges ahead for this country but also huge opportunities.”

He is known as a close friend of Prime Minister David Cameron, despite their differences over Europe, and has been one of the leading voices in the cabinet calling for sometimes controversial reforms of public services.

Stephen Crabb, 43, Remain campaigner

Brought up by a single mother in social housing in Wales, Crabb was educated at state schools and paid his way through university by working as a building site labourer, his working-class roots that have earned him the title of “blue collar ticket” in some newspapers. He worked as a marketing consultant before being elected to parliament in 2005.

He has held the job of work and pensions minister in Cameron’s government for just three months, having previously been the minister for Wales.

Among those supporting Crabb’s bid is business minister Sajid Javid, who he has said will serve as his finance minister if he wins.

“The British people want control of immigration … For us, this is a red-line,” Crabb said at his campaign launch.

“It is going to be very challenging to reconcile that with the same kind of full access to the single market we have at the moment. The challenge must be to get a set of arrangements that approximates as closely as possibly to what we have now.”

Liam Fox, 54, Brexit campaigner

Long a figure on the right wing of the Conservative Party, Fox was born and raised in Scotland and attended the local state school before studying medicine at the University of Glasgow.

He worked as a doctor and civilian army medical officer before becoming a Conservative MP in 1992.

Fox was defence secretary from 2010-2011, when he resigned over his friendship with a businessman who posed as his adviser. A government investigation found he had breached the ministerial code by allowing an “inappropriate blurring of lines between official and personal relationships”. He has also held the posts of junior foreign office minister and Conservative Party chairman.

He was nominated for the leadership by Robert Goodwill, a junior transport minister, and Scott Mann, a former postman who was elected to parliament last year.

“I do not believe there is room for membership of the single market, if it entails free movement of people. Those who voted to leave the EU would regard it as a betrayal, and frankly they would be right,” he said in his leadership bid speech.

“We do not need to be part of the single market to sell into it.”

Andrea Leadsom, 53, Brexit campaigner

Andrea Leadsome is one of two female hopefuls
Andrea Leadsom is one of two female hopefuls

Leadsom studied political science at Warwick University before working in banking and finance for 25 years, including roles at Barclays and fund manager Invesco Perpetual.

In 1995 she helped the then governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George, try to reassure markets and prevent a run on the banks over the weekend that Barings Bank collapsed.

She was elected to parliament in 2010 and worked as a junior minister in the finance ministry before her current role as a minister in the energy department.

Leadsom was nominated by fellow Brexit campaigners, armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt and William Wragg, a former primary school teacher who was elected to parliament last year.

“I see a huge opportunity from the result of the referendum. Britain, the United Kingdom can be so much better in the world. The future for our children and grandchildren will be so great, but what we have to do now is to all pull together and make that opportunity a reality,” she said in a video posted on Twitter.