At the last election, UK centrist party the Liberal Democrats were reduced from around 50 to 8 MPs. After this catastrophe, their leader resigned, forcing a leadership contest. Two of the party's 8 remaining MPs stood, neither of whom was a well-known name in politics. Unsurprisingly, the winner has not revived the electoral fortunes of the party.

At the same election a couple of high-profile MPs for Labour, the left-wing party, also lost their seats. Chief among them was Ed Balls who had been tipped as a potential future leader. However, losing his seat seemed to disqualify him as a candidate in that party's leadership contest. Since he had the potential to unite the two wings of that party, his loss has potentially had a huge impact on their fortunes.

Both these event made me wonder why British parties consider it essential that their leader has a seat in Parliament. The role of leader would seem to be one of management, which does not directly require a vote in Parliament. Even if it did, it's merely a single vote which would rarely - if ever - matter a great deal in passing legislation.

Why don't British parties allow non-MPs to stand for party leadership positions?

  • 2
    As far as I can ascertain only the Liberal Democrats have an election procedure which explicitly states that leadership candidates have to be MPs. Having said that, the detailed rules for the Conservative Party seem to be almost impossible to find.
    – origimbo
    Jun 8, 2017 at 18:32

1 Answer 1


Most major political parties don't do this because the leader of the largest political party traditionally becomes the Prime Minister. It would be unfeasible for a party to put in place a Prime Minister who wasn't democratically elected and was rather elected by some technocrats or internal party mechanism. It is also unrealistic in a democracy for someone who hasn't been able to get themselves elected to a constituency to run the country.

However minor political parties often do. Natalie Bennet was elected leader of the Green Party (A party with only one sitting MP at the time of her election - Caroline Lucas) between 2012 - 2016 despite never being elected to any other political office. Nigel Farage was leader of the UK Independence Party (A party with no MP's at the time of his election) between 2006 - 2016 and has never won a seat to parliament.

Credit to origimbo for suggested edit regarding the number of MP's each party had at the time the leader became the leader

  • It might be worth noting that Natalie Bennet was elected while the Green Party had only one sitting MP (current co-leader Caroline Lucas, who was then standing down as leader) while until 2014 UKIP had no MPs.
    – origimbo
    Jun 8, 2017 at 18:16
  • @origimbo updated with your suggestion Jun 8, 2017 at 18:22
  • What is so 'inconvenient or impractical' about having a party leader who is not an MP? What makes it unrealistic? They might be standing in an opposition strong hold. Jun 9, 2017 at 7:22
  • 1
    The same is also currently true for all of the smaller parties, most notably the SNP. Jun 9, 2017 at 13:07
  • It would be entirely legally possible for a non-MP leader to be PM. However, appointment of PM and invitation to form a government are matters in which the monarch still has discretion and it is very likely that the monarch would refuse, even if the non-MP leader were appointed to the Lords. (Alexander Douglas-Home sat in the Lords when appointed PM in 1963. A few days after being appointed PM, he renounced his earldom so he could be elected to a safe Tory seat in the Commons in a handy by-election; he was thus PM but a member of neither House of Parliament for the best part of a month.)
    – tmgr
    Nov 5, 2018 at 0:38

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