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?

  • 3
    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
    Commented 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
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 18:16
  • @origimbo updated with your suggestion Commented 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. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 7:22
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    The same is also currently true for all of the smaller parties, most notably the SNP. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 13:07
  • 1
    @tmgr Does the monarch REALLY have discretion, or is this one of those cases where they pretend she does on paper, but the backlash would likely end it/reverse it if she tried to use it that way? Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 22:06

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