Let’s do the time warp again…back to 2019. Why? Because that was the year of indicative votes. During the Brexit wars, MPs repeatedly voted on a series of options to see what, if anything, could command support from Parliament. The answer, in case you’ve forgotten: very little. 

This has not stopped the Conservative party from reintroducing an indicative vote into their latest leadership contest (only their second this year). As part of efforts to avoid a long, drawn out process, the new leader will be known by this time next week at the latest. The process, as so often is the case in Conservative leadership elections, never puts clarity first and foremost. 

Announced yesterday by Sir Graham Brady, any candidate must gain 100 nominations by 2pm on Monday 24th October. With 357 Conservative MPs, this means only three candidates maximum. Assuming three stand, a vote will occur on Monday between 3.30pm and 5.30pm to eliminate one, with the result announced at 6pm. 

Here’s the fun part: when there are just two candidates left, an indicative vote will be held among Conservative MPs that same evening between 6.30pm and 8.30pm. Not binding on the result, it indicates to the Conservative membership who is the preferred candidate. 

During David Cameron’s premiership – which seems like ancient history – a “nudge unit”, formally known as the Behavioural Insight Team, was set up to guide people to make better choices for themselves. That idea has been revived over a decade on, with the indicative vote aiming to nudge the second placed candidate among Conservative MPs to stand aside for the winner. 

You cannot, however, be a Conservative MP without ambition. The second placed candidate has no obligation to withdraw. Should they not step aside, Conservative members will be given the chance to vote online until 11am on Friday 28th October. In July, Rishi Sunak won the support of 24 more MPs than Liz Truss, yet the membership disagreed. The same situation could happen once again. Who ever said history never repeats itself?

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