The UK should know who its fifth Conservative Party leader – and therefore prime minister – within six years will be by next Friday.
Prime minister Liz Truss resigned on Thursday after just 44 days in office. She beat former chancellor Rishi Sunak to replace Boris Johnson in early September, but her policies just caused further divisions in the Tory party and economic chaos.
Now, Sunak and Johnson, along with a handful of other senior Conservative MPs, are expected to run to replace Truss in a sped-up selection process.
As the Tories remain the party with the majority of seats in the House of Commons and this is not a general election, only Conservative Party members get to choose who leads them (and the rest of the UK) until the next election.
First, candidates will need at least 100 nominations from Tory MPs by Monday. Then, there will be an indicative vote of MPs once there are two candidates, with the ballots taking place on Monday 24.
Once that’s been completed, and there are only two candidates, the Conservative Campaign HQ will begin balloting the party membership.
But just who can become a member of the Conservative Party? Here’s a few questions we all ought to be asking about this process.
1. What do we really know about Tory Party members?
The Conservative Party will not reveal how many members it has, although the most common estimate is 160,000. A briefing paper from the House of Commons library in 2019 suggests there are 180,000 members – still a tiny fraction of the general population.
According to news outlet Tortoise, the party’s headquarters will not give away details of their membership for “GDPR reasons”, although the news organisation later sent a letter to CCHQ pointing out that knowing the membership make-up was an essential part of the UK democracy.
The news outlet has since filed an application for a Judicial Review of the party’s refusal to disclose information about how it chooses its next leader.
2. Are there any restrictions over who can vote?
People cannot vote unless they’ve been a member of the Conservative Party for three months prior to October 28, when the election closes.
But, foreign nationals can vote if they’re a member. They do not have to have a British citizenship, or any link with the UK, to vote in this race.
Those under 18 who cannot legally vote in a general election are also permitted to cast a vote in the Tory leadership election.
3. How secure are the votes?
During the summer’s leadership race, there were concerns about the security of the votes.
Members can vote via post or online, but last time, security worries forced the party to drop preliminary plans which would have allowed members to change their cast votes during the course of the contest.
Now, if a duplicate vote is recorded, the second one will be counted.
The first plan concocted during the summer was dropped after the National Cyber Security Centre announced: “As you would expect from the UK’s national cybersecurity authority we provided advice to the Conservative party on security considerations for online leadership voting.”
Lord Cruddas led the campaign to put Johnson back on the ballot paper in the summer, even though re-entering the race as the leader who just had to step down is not permitted.
He suggested that hacking fears meant the Conservatives “should reject the resignation of the prime minister and ask him to stay on board whilst the board fixes any cyber issues and the leadership campaign can be revisited”.
Sky News also revealed at the start of August that the Conservatives were posting out the leadership ballots “a little later than we originally said” because they had to add some extra security measures to the process.
At the moment, voting more than once in the process is considered an “offence” and anyone found doing so would have their membership withdrawn.
However, according to Tortoise’s reporting, there are few checks that voters are who they say they are.