On 7 July 2022 Boris Johnson announced that he would step down as leader of the Conservative Party. He remained in post as prime minister while a leadership election took place. On 5 September 2022, Liz Truss defeated Rishi Sunak to become leader of the Conservative Party. She became Prime Minister on 6 September 2022 after meeting Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral.
There are two stages to a Conservative leadership election: MPs vote to choose two candidates, who then compete for votes from party members.
The Conservative Party Constitution only requires that an election of the membership be held to choose a party leader. The rules for the first part of the contest – the shortlisting of candidates – are set by the 1922 Committee of backbench conservative MPs. These rules are not publicly available and may change between contests.
Chair of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady set out the rules for the first stage of the contest on 11 July 2022:
Nominations opened and closed on Tuesday 12 July. MPs had to command the support of 20 MPs in order to be nominated.
Several rounds of MP ballots liminated six of the eight nominated candidates, leaving two to face the membership.
Eleven candidates announced their intention to run for the leadership. Three – Rehman Chishti, Sajid Javid and Grant Shapps – withdrew before nominations closed.
Eight candidates received the support of the required 20 Conservative MPs and progressed to the first stage of the contest. Six were eliminated over five rounds of MP ballots. The remaining two progressed to the members’ vote:
- Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey and chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee. Eliminated in the first round.
- Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon and chancellor. Eliminated in the first round.
- Suella Braverman, MP for Fareham and attorney general. Eliminated in the second round.
- Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Eliminated in the third round.
- Kemi Badenoch, MP for Saffron Walden and former minister for local government, faith and communities and for equalities. Eliminated in the fourth round.
- Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North and minister at the Department for International Trade. Eliminated in the fifth round.
- Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond and former chancellor. He received the support of 137 MPs in the final ballot and progressed to the members’ vote.
- Liz Truss, MP for South West Norfolk and foreign secretary. She received the support of 113 MPs in the final ballot and progressed to the members’ vote.
Conservative members then voted to choose between the final two candidates in a postal ballot. Liz Truss was elected Conservative leader with the support of 57.4% of voting members.
The eight candidates who ran for the leadership did so with a wide range of experience in government and parliament. Jeremy Hunt was in cabinet under David Cameron and Theresa May, leaving when Boris Johnson became prime minister in 2019. The eventual winner, Liz Truss had served for several years in cabinet.
Others hadfewer years in government. Some, such as Kemi Badenoch, had no cabinet experience, while Tom Tugendhat had never been a minister (though he had chaired the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
After Boris Johnson announced his intention to resign, the party set out a plan for a quick leadership contest.
The five rounds of MP ballots took place over only one week in July 2022. The period during which Conservative members could vote, however, lasted for six weeks throughout summer. The length of this contest received criticism from some Conservative MPs, including Liz Truss ally James Cleverly.
- Allegretti A, ‘Britain to have new PM by 5 September as Tory leadership rules announced’, The Guardian, 11 July 2022, retrieved 16 September 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/jul/11/britain-new-pm-5-september-tory-leadership-rules-announced.
- Crerar P, ‘Liz Truss wins Tory leadership race to become Britain’s next PM’, The Guardian, 5 September 2022, retrieved 16 September 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/sep/05/liz-truss-wins-tory-leadership-race-to-become-britains-next-pm.
- Maidment J, ‘Tory leadership race is too long, says Liz Truss ally’, The Telegraph, 18 August 2022, retrieved 16 September 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2022/08/18/tory-leadership-race-long-should-wrapped-quicker-says-liz-truss/.