Politics: Tory MPs open leadership selection to whole party

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The Independent Online
William Hague's hold on the Conservative leadership could be weakened by rule changes. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, says Tory MPs voted to make the next leadership election open to the whole party.

Conservative MPs voted to change their system for electing a new leader to one member, one vote, the system which helped new Labour to recover from successive election defeats.

William Hague's allies believe this consolidates his position, because it will also avoid the destabilising annual re-adoption of the leader which was faced by Baroness Thatcher and John Major and a no confidence motion would have to be passed before he could be challenged.

But the new rules make clear an election for the leader could be started by a vote of no confidence supported by 25 per cent of the Parliamentary party, or 45 members, which ever is the lesser. After Labour's landslide victory, only 41 MPs would be needed to trigger the vote.

Mr Hague's position could be made less secure from future challenges from either Michael Portillo from the Euro-sceptic right or Chris Patten from the pro-Euro left if they re-enter politics before the next general election.

Mr Hague immediately welcomed the change as the first step on the road to his own modernisation of the Tory party. "It is just part of our programme to democratise my party. I want party members to be fully involved in what we what do," said Mr Hague.

Tory MPs also voted to give up their exclusive right to choose their leader in favour of giving the party membership a one member, one vote ballot in the next leadership contest.

In doing so, they bowed to intense pressure from the grassroots members who felt betrayed by many Tory MPs, both over the removal of Lady Thatcher and their in-fighting over European policy which contributed to their humiliating defeat on 1 May.

A total of 110 MPs voted in favour of moving to a system in which a leadership challenge would require a vote of no confidence, with 36 voting to keep the present system; five abstentions and one spoiled paper.

A total of 102 Tory MPs voted for Omov, with 24 voting to keep the existing rules. There were 23 votes for other options.