How Much Does It Cost to Become Conservative Prime Minister?

  • Candidates can spend less than one pound per Tory member
  • It’s an all-female race between May and Leadsom for leadership

Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom have two months to convince U.K. Conservative members that they should succeed David Cameron as party leader and prime minister, taking on the challenge of guiding Britain through an unprecedented political transition that has spooked markets and cast a shadow over its economy.

Most of the general public who voted last month to pull the U.K. out of the European Union won’t get a say on who will handle the tricky negotiation. The final vote is in the hands of about 150,000 Tory members, or a touch over 0.3 percent of registered voters. And the candidates can only spend less than a pound per voter to convince them.

How much can the candidates spend?

Each candidate is permitted to spend 135,000 pounds ($175,000) during the campaign. For context, Hillary Clinton spent $1 million targeting voters in Orlando and Florida during a one-week period in late June.

There will also be mailings and “regular e-mails” to party members from each candidate, sent from the Conservative headquarters in London. Data protection rules don’t allow the party to pass membership lists onto the two candidates, so it will act as the clearing house for all communications.

That’s not very much, how else might members be swayed?

Newspapers are already coming out in support of their favored candidates, with the Sun and the Daily Mail backing May. While Leadsom has the backing of Daily Telegraph columnist and former London Mayor Boris Johnson, she has yet to win any newspaper’s formal endorsement.

The support that might count for Leadsom is from Leave.EU, bankrolled by Arron Banks, the Brexit campaign’s biggest donor. It is using access to its 95,000 followers on Twitter and 770,000 likes on Facebook to make the case for the underdog. The messaging is unlikely to stop on those and other platforms ahead of the vote and will not be controlled by the spending limits.

There will also be a series of town hall-style debates, known as “hustings,” at which May and Leadsom will be able to make their pitches directly to party members.

What do these members look like?

Among registered backers, there is a predominance of men, retirees and the managerial middle class, studies show. The average Tory voter tends to be older, from a more privileged background and more educated.

“The Conservative Party membership has a strong tendency towards Euro-skepticism and backed by a majority the decision for Britain to leave the European Union,” Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the The Bow Group, a Conservative think-tank, said in a phone interview.

If I join the party now, can I vote?

No. Only people who have been members of the Conservative Party for more than three months are eligible to vote. Tories looked on with some amusement last year as thousands of left-wing activists paid three pounds to sign up as Labour supporters so they could vote in the party’s last leadership election. Committed socialist Jeremy Corbyn won and the party has been gripped by turmoil ever since as most Labour lawmakers want to get rid of him.

Fears that Leadsom could win in a vote among members surfaced earlier in the campaign when Nick Boles, who was trying to get justice secretary Michael Gove into the final run-off, texted lawmakers to say he was “seriously frightened” at the prospect. “Are we really confident that the membership won’t vote for a fresh face who shares their attitudes about much of modern life?” he asked.

May won the backing of 199 Tory lawmakers in the vote to decide who should go into the national ballot, compared with 84 for Leadsom. If Leadsom wins, it will leave the Conservatives, like Labour, with a parliamentary party out of step with its membership.

When will the final vote take place?

Ballot papers will be sent out to members in mid-August and they will be able to vote by post or online. Polls are due to close at noon on Sept. 9 and the result will be announced later that day.

Who is Theresa May?

May, 59, has served as home secretary, one of the traditional four great offices of state, since Cameron came to power in 2010. The most powerful woman in the government over the past six years, she’s also the longest-serving home secretary in more than six decades.

A known Euroskeptic who’s pushed for lower immigration, she only reluctantly backed the “Remain” camp and kept a low profile during the referendum campaign, allowing her to position herself as a unifying candidate for the party.

May said at the news conference to launch her campaign that “Brexit means Brexit,” and there could be no attempt to remain inside the EU or hold a second vote on membership. She also ruled out an early election and said exit negotiations from the bloc should not be triggered before the end of 2016.

Who is Andrea Leadsom?

Leadsom, 53, has never run a government department. She worked in financial services before entering Parliament in 2010, joining its Treasury Committee that year. She served on the panel for four years before Cameron appointed her Economic Secretary to the Treasury. After the 2015 general election, she moved to the Department for Energy and Climate Change as a junior minister.

Leadsom was a prominent advocate of Brexit during the referendum campaign and has the backing of former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, as well as Johnson. Her time in the City has come under scrutiny with Leadsom denying that she exaggerated her banking experience to bolster her leadership credentials.

Leadsom wants to speed up the process of quitting the EU: “I intend to keep the negotiations as short as possible,” she said at her campaign launch.

Who’s the favorite?

May. She’s been the consistent front-runner with the bookmakers. Ladbrokes Plc currently offers odds of 1-5, or one pound in winnings for every five bet. Leadsom is on 7-2.

Why will the winner of the contest be prime minister?

It is a feature of Britain’s parliamentary democracy that the prime minister is the leader of the party that can command a majority in the House of Commons, the U.K. Parliament’s lower house. The Conservatives have 330 lawmakers in the 650-seat lower chamber. Once a victor emerges, she will be invited to visit Queen Elizabeth II and form a government.

Has this happened before?

No. The last three Conservative leadership elections -- in 2001, 2003 and 2005 -- came when the party was out of power, so the victor had to win a general election to become prime minister. Prior to 2001, the leader was solely elected by Tory lawmakers.

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