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Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 1997: Wikis


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A leadership election was triggered in the British Conservative Party when John Major resigned on 2 May 1997, following his party's defeat at the 1997 general election (which ended 18 years of Conservative government of the UK).





The following candidates announced their intention to stand:

Announced they were standing but withdrew

Declined Candidates

  • Michael Heseltine - had been widely expected to contest the leadership but declined to following health concerns

Not an MP at the time

In the months before the general election a number of other prominent Conservatives were talked about as potential leaders; however several failed to hold their seats in the general election including:

In addition, many had speculated about Chris Patten returning to Westminster (he had lost his seat in the 1992 election) and becoming leader; however the contest took place before Patten's term of office as Governor of Hong Kong ended.


First Ballot: 4 May 1997
Candidate Votes %
Kenneth Clarke 49 29.9
William Hague 41 25.0
John Redwood 27 16.5
Peter Lilley 24 14.6
Michael Howard 23 14.0
Turnout 164 100
Michael Howard eliminated

Second round

Peter Lilley withdrew. He and Howard gave their backing to William Hague.

Second Ballot: 5 May 1997
Candidate Votes %
Kenneth Clarke 64 39.0
William Hague 62 37.8
John Redwood 38 23.2
Turnout 164 100
John Redwood eliminated

Final Round

For the final round, Redwood gave his backing to Clarke.

Second Ballot: 6 May 1997
Candidate Votes %
William Hague 90 55.2
Kenneth Clarke 72 44.2
Abstentions 1 0.6
Turnout 163 99.4
Kenneth Clarke eliminated, William Hague elected

Julian Lewis announced that he was the only MP who did not vote.


The following year the system of leadership elections was altered to the present form, where MPs choose a short-list of two candidates, who are then presented to the mass membership to choose.

Under William Hague's leadership, the party would fail to make any significant advance at the 2001 general election, and he was succeeded by Iain Duncan Smith.


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