Written by Stephen McNamara
Boris Johnson’s ejection from the position of Leader of the Conservative Party has brought to the world’s attention the processes political parties need to have to efficiently and effectively hand over the power and control a leader has from the outgoing individual to the incoming one. The eyes of many will be judging not just the candidates, but the party’s process as well.
When the incumbent leader announced their resignation from the position, the Conservative Party had its contest process triggered. It is a process where a deadline is set for sitting MPs to put their names forward initially. They then have to have the supporting signatures of so many other Conservative MPs in order to make the first shortlist, and then their committee overseeing the election will set out the timetable for the election and the process begins from there with Westminster Conservative MPs voting at different stages following a series of events where the candidates get to campaign. This leads to the final vote where the decision is opened up to the entire membership of the Conservative Party.
There are many criticisms of the system they use. Outsiders complain that only the Party’s members get to vote on what is essentially deciding who will become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, although their argument is weak at best. Their opportunity to vote for a PM is during elections yet they often vote for the party regardless of who is standing for the party, so when the party remains in power and the leader’s position changes hands, there is nothing that non-members can do about it.
Another criticism that has been aired recently is that the sitting Prime Minister will remain so until the new leader is elected. Those who criticise this suggest that the Deputy should automatically become Prime Minister until the election formally concludes. I understand the position and do not entirely disagree. However, due to the way that Westminster operates administratively, the parliament would possibly have to close, and the temporary leader would have to go about the whole process of asking the ruling monarch for permission to form a new government, then move house etc. It’s really not worth the paper that the taxpayer’s money is printed on. Far simpler to allow a cooling down period and time for an election to happen.
The biggest criticism held against the Conservatives is how their selection process works. Some key members have raised the issue that they do not get to be involved in the process until the very last vote where the decision has already effectively been made for them by the MPs. Many members would be happy to vote in a system where they were more involved. Suggested systems include the use of a proportional representation voting system, such as the Single Transferable Vote. This could happen where all of the initial nominees get the chance to campaign fully for the full election campaign period, then the members of the party would be able to list their preferences in order. Ultimately, as votes are counted and candidates eliminated, the last one standing was the most popular within the party membership. It’s arguably one of the fairer democratic systems to use when seeking a single decision as it tends to eliminate the problems with the first past the post system.
I must admit that I do take great interest whenever a political party has an internal election process and I find it immensely satisfying to watch on as the process unfolds. The end result tends to bring joy to many as the victor celebrates whilst the party membership move on knowing that there is a brighter future ahead.
Regardless of how people feel about the internal election processes each party uses, at least the Conservatives have one. There are some parties that don’t have a process and simply make things up as they go along then wonder why things don’t go the way they want them to as they suffer badly in the political arena. I noticed this with the political party I was with and initiated a leadership challenge to try to deal with the administrative failings of those in positions of internal power and influence. What should have been a fair a transparent election campaign turned into a mudslinging contest where the incumbent leader pressured the committee to ban his opposition contended from the party permanently in order not to lose the election. This type of behaviour needs called out as it’s often associated to dictatorships rather than open and transparent organisations with a public influence.
The message everyone should take away is that even if the system used to elect a leader is not the type you prefer, it’s absolutely necessary as without it your choice of political party will never succeed in future elections.