Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 5, issue 4

Dean McSweeney, "Changing the Rules Changed the Game: Selecting Conservative Leaders," Party Politics, 5 (October 1999), 471-483.

First Paragraph:
For a period of over 30 years, from 1965, Conservative leaders were selected by the party's MPs. In 1997 this method aroused widespread criticism, accompanied by calls for the immediate inception of new procedures for choosing a successor to John Major. Criticism centred on the unrepresentativeness of the parliamentary party. The smallest number of Conservative MPs this century, elected exclusively from English, mainly shire constituencies, was deemed to be an inadequate cross-section of the country or the party membership to produce a result acceptable to either. Implicit in these arguments was the assumption that a broader electorate, including party members or other parliamentarians (peers, MEPs), would produce a different outcome

Figures and Tables:
Table 1: Experience of leadership contenders, 1955-97 (first-time candidates only)
Table 2: Ideological alignment and candidate preference in second ballots, 1990 and 1997 (%)
Table 3: Eurosceptics' candidate preferences in second ballot, 1997 (%)
Table 4: Characteristics of first-time winners, 1955-97

Last Paragraph:
The adoption in 1998 of a one-member, one-vote system for choosing future leaders is likely to stimulate further changes in campaigns, candidates, selection criteria and winners. Membership participation will encourage candidates to direct their campaigns at the party in the constituencies. Some candidates in 1997, anticipating the inclusion of members in a rapidly reformed selection procedure, sought speaking opportunities at regional party conferences. For the future, prolonged campaigns, launched long in advance of formal contests, will facilitate cultivation of the grassroots. A new type of candidate, with strong links to the party's grassroots, an Organization Man or Woman (such as present or former party chairmen), could generate sufficient loyalty amongst members to become contenders for the leadership. The priorities of party members will be injected into selection criteria. Left and pro-European conservatism retains a strong presence in the constituencies. In 1997, a majority of constituency chairs favoured Clarke whilst support for Redwood, Lilley and Howard was negligible (The Times, 11 June 1997). Winners, to a greater degree than in the past, are likely to have extensive grassroots contacts and to depend for support on the centre-left of the party.