Who are the people who elect Britain’s next Prime Minister?

By: |
July 8, 2016 9:51 PM

Britain's next prime minister, tasked with negotiating the country's exit from the European Union, will be chosen by Sept. 9 following a vote of the ruling Conservative Party's 150,000 grassroots members.

Britain’s next prime minister, tasked with negotiating the country’s exit from the European Union, will be chosen by Sept. 9 following a vote of the ruling Conservative Party’s 150,000 grassroots members.

After two votes by Conservative lawmakers, the two candidates for the job are interior minister Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom, a junior energy minister. For more information on the candidates see:

Below are the key details of how the next leader is chosen and who gets to decide:


Prime Minister David Cameron said he would resign following the country’s June 23 public vote to leave the EU, handing responsibility for setting the terms and timing of the exit to a successor.

The Conservative Party won a national election in May 2015, putting them in power until May 2020. That means whoever replaces Cameron as party leader automatically becomes prime minister. There is no requirement for a new national election until 2020.

A field of five candidates has already been whittled down to two – May and Leadsom – by two votes held among the 330 elected Conservative members of parliament. Cameron has given no public indication of who he backs.

The Conservative Party’s 150,000 members, who pay 25 pounds ($32.43) per year, will either vote online or by postal ballot. Ballot papers will be sent out in mid-August and the final decision is expected to be announced on Sept. 9.

A group of Conservative lawmakers are pushing for that date to be brought forward, but the committee organising the election has yet to respond to that request and Sept. 9 remains the expected end date.


The Conservative Party does not disclose any demographic details of its members. However, a 2015 survey of 1193 party members, published by the Economic and Social Research Council ‘Party Members Project’, provides the following information:

Average Age: 54

Gender: 71 percent male


– 38 percent are university graduates

– 75 percent fall into the socio-economic groups consisting of professionals, managers, supervisors and administrative workers. By comparison those groups make up 53 percent of the overall British population.

The data, compiled by Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University, showed the majority of members classed themselves as Anglican Christian, with Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs underrepresented in the party. Around a third considered themselves religious.

The survey asked members to rank their own political views, with 0 representing ‘right wing’ and 10 representing ‘left-wing. Conservative members scored themselves at 2.24, compared to opposition Labour Party members who rated themselves 7.61.


“The Conservative Party is a fairly broad church. It is wrong to see it as a nest of Thatcherite, anti-European head-bangers,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, who worked on the Party Members Project.

“While clearly they’re on the right of the political spectrum if we’re talking about the population as a whole, they’re not all of them, by any means, particularly right wing by Conservative Party standards.”

Bale said that while many of the party’s older members were resistant to gay marriage reforms passed in 2013, younger members were markedly less so, and there was little appetite in the party as a whole to tear up the new rules.

The party’s members have typically more socially conservative views than the population, favouring stricter crime and punishment policies and holding more restrictive views on immigration, Bale said. Immigration was seen as having economic benefits, but also as undermining traditional British values.

Only 16 percent of members agreed with the idea that the government should redistribute income from the better-off to those who are less well-off, while nearly two thirds disagreed. A small majority thought public spending cuts had not gone far enough, with only 4 percent saying cuts had gone too far.


– A YouGov poll conducted after the referendum showed 63 percent of the party’s members had voted to leave the EU.

The same survey asked members what they thought should be the party’s top three or four priorities. Eighty four percent named the economy, 51 percent opted for Europe or defence and 50 percent cited immigration and asylum. Three percent listed the environment as a priority.

– A YouGov survey of party members conducted in early July showed:

The three most important criteria for Cameron’s successor are someone who would make a competent prime minister (74 percent of members), someone capable of uniting the party (65 percent) and someone who has good policy ideas (41 percent).

Fifty-seven percent of party members believe the next prime minister should only negotiate a free trade deal with the EU if it can be done without giving EU citizens the right to live and work in Britain. Conversely 33 percent say such a deal should be struck even if it gives EU citizens settlement rights.

Seventy-two percent of members think EU citizens currently living in the UK should be allowed to stay, if a reciprocal deal for Britons living in the EU can be agreed. Only 3 percent of members thought EU citizens should have to return home once Britain leaves the bloc.

Eighty percent of members do not want the next prime minister to call a national election this year. ($1 = 0.7708 pounds)

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