Why the Conservative leadership contest embarrasses British democracy

Boris Johnson (L) and Jeremy Hunt (R) at the BBC leadership debate earlier this week. (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

In four weeks, the United Kingdom will have a new Prime Minister.

After Theresa May resigned as leader of the Conservative party and in turn the Prime Minister last month, the race to replace her at 10 Downing Street began. However, rather than have a general election, the rules state that there would be a leadership contest within the party instead.

Ten Tory MPs entered the race two weeks ago, with a number of secret ballots between Conservative MPs taking place to decide the final two. This left us with two men- former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The two candidates will now go head to head as they fight for the votes of Conservative party members, who have the fate of the country in their hands. Along the line of a number of problems with this process, this is by far the largest.

Johnson (L) and Hunt (R) will go head to head to become the next Prime Minister. (Getty Images)

The responsibility of deciding the final two candidates fell to the 313 Conservative MPs, out of the total 650 MPs in the House of Commons. This means that 51.5% of elected Members of Parliament could not even choose who made it to this stage, and had no say on who should be in contention.

Despite this, the worst part of the Conservative leadership contest is who will actually choose our next Prime Minister. 160,000 Conservative party members will have the final say, and that is a true embarrassment to the British democratic system.

In a nation of 66 million people, a shocking 0.0024% of the population have the final say. You have to ask yourself- is that really democracy? These members literally had to pay for their vote, with a party membership costing £25 a year.

As well as this, statistics from the BBC also show a huge disparity in the backgrounds of those eligible voters to the general public. 56% of the members are over the age of 55, with the percentage rising as you go up each age group.

Statistics on the Conservative Party members. (BBC)

Conservative party members also mostly come from the top social class, which speaks a thousand words. The older, wealthier citizens are going to be selecting their next Prime Minister for the next three years, not ours.

While the British democratic system is far from perfect, the latest leadership contest really does prove how much change is required. Worst of all, this is nothing new- Theresa May came into power three years ago through the exact same undemocratic process, following David Cameron’s resignation in June 2016. We all know how that one turned out.

With all due respect to Mrs May, she never gained the full support of the country throughout her tenure because we didn’t choose her. In fact, when she reached the final two alongside Andrea Leadsom, she automatically became Prime Minister after Leadsom pulled out at the final hurdle.

Screenshot 2019-03-15 at 14.26.24

Brexit has already embarrassed the United Kingdom, and this leadership contest has made it even worse. It seems absurd that we didn’t go straight to a general election, and while that would have been even more hectic it would give the real British public a vote.

The underlying moral of this contest is that we are gradually losing our voices, with less regard for the public opinion than ever. If this is how our next Prime Minister will be decided, then we may as well not have the leadership contest in the first place.

Yet it cannot be like that, and the British people need to regain their voice in this time of political turmoil. If we are to return to democracy, then this needs to change- after all, what is democracy if we cannot even exercise our right to it?

Screenshot 2019-03-29 at 16.06.34


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