A tiny, unrepresentative electorate picks United Kingdom’s new leader

A blimp balloon depicting contender for leadership of Britain's ruling Conservative Party, Boris Johnson is launched outside Parliament, next to a statue of wartime leader Winston Churchill, during an anti-Brexit protest in London, Saturday July, 20, 2019. The pro-European march was organised by the March for Change group. Johnson is a leading Brexit advocate. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s next prime minister will govern a nation of 66 million people, but only 0.25% of them had a say in the choice.

Either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will be announced Tuesday as the winner of a contest to lead the governing Conservative Party. After a formal handover of power, the victor will become prime minister the next day.

A look at how the process works:


In Britain’s parliamentary system, voters elect a lawmaker for their local area. There are 650 of these constituencies across the U.K., and so 650 members of Parliament. The party with the most lawmakers forms a government, with the leader of that party becoming prime minister.

Parties are entitled to change leaders without going back to the voting public. It happened when Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Labour prime minister in 2007, and when Theresa May took over from her Conservative predecessor David Cameron in 2016.

May announced her resignation last month, triggering a leadership contest in which any of the 313 Conservative legislators was eligible to run. The initial field of 10 candidates was then winnowed down to two in elimination votes by Tory lawmakers.

The final two, Hunt and Johnson, went to a runoff decided in a postal ballot of about 160,000 Conservative members across the country. To be eligible to vote, they need to have paid a 25 pound ($31) membership fee and been in the party for at least three months.


The country’s leadership choice is largely in the hands of comfortably off, older white men.

According to a U.K. academic study, 70% of Conservative members are men, half are over 55, 86% are middle class or above and 97% are white — in a country where 10%-15% of the population belongs to an ethnic minority.

Most of them want Britain to leave the European Union, whatever the consequences. Two-thirds of Conservatives support leaving the EU without a divorce deal even if it damages the British economy.

Both Johnson and Hunt campaigned on a promise to take Britain out of the 28-nation bloc, deal or no deal.


The winner of the vote will immediately become Conservative leader, but they won’t be prime minister until a carefully choreographed political handover on Wednesday.