Less than 1 percent of Britain’s people voted on the new prime minister. Here’s why.
It may come as a surprise, particularly to those less familiar with parliamentary systems of government, that the decision on Britain’s new leader has been made by just a small (and not very representative) fraction of the country’s 67 million people.
Around 160,000 people had the final say in choosing the new leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore the next prime minister. Here’s what to know about those people, how the process played out and what happens next.
How did the leadership vote work?
Since Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned while his party still holds an overall majority in Parliament, the Conservatives could decide on his successor through a party leadership contest.
The initial stages of a Conservative leadership race take place among the party’s members of Parliament, from whom all the potential candidates are drawn. Each needed the nomination of 20 fellow lawmakers to reach the first ballot in July, a threshold met by eight of the 11 who sought to run.
Then Conservative lawmakers, through five rounds of voting, narrowed the candidates to two: Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. After that, it was up to the rest of the party’s dues-paying members to decide.
At the time of the last leadership election in 2019, 154,500 party members were eligible to vote. Now that number is estimated to be more than 160,000 — still less than 0.3 percent of Britain’s population. Party members pay an annual subscription of 25 pounds, about $30, and have been voting by mail and online since early August. Voting closed at 5 p.m. on Friday.
Who got a say?
The Conservative Party does not release clear data on the makeup of its membership — even the number of members is not routinely published. But surveys offer a glimpse into just how unrepresentative those voting for this leader are of the broader population.
According to extensive demographic research from Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London, published in 2018, while members of all major parties in Britain are more likely than the average person to be male, older, middle-class and white, Conservative Party members skewed even more in that direction.
At the time of the research, an overwhelming majority were male (71 percent) and white (97 percent). About 44 percent were over 65. They also disproportionately represented one pocket of the country, with 54 percent living in London and the southeast of England, although this is in line with the other major British parties.
What happens next?
For the duration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year-reign, the monarch has held an audience with her incoming prime minister at Buckingham Palace, her primary residence in central London.
But this time around, the queen, now 96, will be met with both the outgoing and the incoming prime minister at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where she is on her annual summer trip. This is the 15th prime minister of her long reign.
Typically, the departing prime minister would make a statement outside Downing Street and then take a final trip as leader to meet the queen and be formally dismissed from the role. The newly elected leader would then meet the queen before returning to 10 Downing Street and make a speech.
Instead, on Tuesday morning, Mr. Johnson will make a speech at Downing Street before traveling by plane to Balmoral to see the queen around midday. Directly after that meeting, the new leader will meet with the queen there and become prime minister, before returning to London to make a speech.