Why Britain Suddenly Has A New Prime Minister, Explained For Americans

Basically, a bloke called Graham decided it.

1. Hi America! So you might have heard that today the UK gets a new prime minister. This has happened much quicker than we expected and has taken lots of people by surprise.

BBC

You know how your presidential elections take about three years? This is not like that.

2. Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, that’s probably because the British sorted it out without any fuss in their quaint, traditional ways. There was probably tea involved. Haha NOPE.

David Parry / PA Images

No tea has played a significant role…yet.

3. As we explained recently, ever since we voted to leave the EU, everything about our country has become ridiculous and confusing.

Channel 4

So here’s what happened: David Cameron was our prime minister. He’s from the ruling right-wing Conservative party, aka the Tories – think the Republicans, except they all went to Oxford University and like posh things, like drinking port and having money.

He called a referendum on whether we should be in the EU, just to try to calm down the Europe-hating right wing of his party, but he then proceeded to lose it, plunging the country into economic and constitutional turmoil. So he resigned.

4. NOW HOLD UP, YANKEE FRIENDS. When our prime minister resigns, it’s not like a president resigning! We don’t directly elect our prime minister – instead, we elect members of parliament (MPs), and whoever can ~command a majority~ of MPs gets to be PM. Which basically means it’s the leader of the largest party.

James Steidl / Getty Images / BuzzFeed

As result, the country doesn’t get to elect a new prime minister when the old one goes, and we don’t have a vice president who can step in right away and Biden things up a bit. Instead, it’s up to the ruling party to pick a new leader. In this case, that’s the Conservatives.

(Don’t worry, guys, this seems weird but it’s happened loads of times before.)

5. Anyway, this means that rather than being chosen by all these people…

Mathess / Getty Images

6. …the new prime minister was going to be chosen by these people.

Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

(This is an entirely accurate representation of the membership of the Tory party in 2016.)

7. Everybody expected the race to be new prime minister to be a battle between these two people: Theresa May and Boris Johnson.

Chris Radburn / PA Images

Joe Giddens/PA Images

 

Theresa May is the home secretary (the person in charge of stuff like the police, border control, and prisons). Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, is the best-known public face of the campaign to leave the EU and is a popular walking stereotype of a buffoonish aristocracy.

8. Except that a few hours before Johnson was due to launch his leadership bid, he got unexpectedly betrayed by his second in command, Michael Gove.

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Michael Gove is a messy bitch who lives for drama.

9. Gove was supposed to run Johnson’s campaign – but instead announced his own campaign. Which he led with a really impressive pitch.

BuzzFeed

With the result that Johnson, who’d been the overwhelming favourite, basically shat the bed and dropped out before he’d even started.

10. That left us with five candidates.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

Andrea Leadsom (who looks like the kind of person who invites you to parties just to judge you), Stephen Crabb (not a real crab), Theresa May (1980s sci-fi villain), Michael Gove (the quiet kid in class who is plotting to get everybody else put in detention), and Liam Fox (who ever since a political scandal a few years ago is better known as Disgraced Former Minister Liam Fox).

11. There now follows a boring description of how the Conservative leadership race was supposed to work, which you can skip if you want tbh.

All the candidates get voted on by the party’s MPs (there’s just over 300 of them), with one person being knocked out in every round of voting until there’s just two left. That final two then go to a vote of all the party’s members (about 150,000 people, although nobody’s entirely sure).

12. In the first round of voting, Theresa May came first, and Disgraced Former Minister Liam Fox was knocked out.

Daniel Leal-olivas / AFP / Getty Images

Here he is, looking freshly disgraced.

But THEN, unexpectedly, not-a-real-crab Stephen Crabb also decided to drop out! This left just May, Leadsom, and Gove in the running.

13. Michael Gove’s supporters continued their impressive pitch for his victory with a desperate plea to May’s supporters to block Leadsom so May could then beat him.

Extraordinary text messages emerges from Nick Boles, campaign chief of Michael Gove urging May supporters back him

— Sam Coates Times (@SamCoatesTimes)

14. But he got knocked out, thus rendering his cunning Machiavellian plan to stab Johnson in the back entirely ineffective.

My cartoon Friday @TheTimes on #Gove. Live by the sword....#ToryLeadership

— Peter Brookes (@BrookesTimes)

RIP Michael Gove.

15. So it was May vs Leadsom in the contest with the party members. Whoever won, the UK would have a second woman prime minister!

Paramount Pictures

Which as we know after Margaret Thatcher can only be a good thing for women, ha ha, ha, ha. Yeah. That’s how it works, right?

16. Anyway. It’s worth noting that up to this point, Theresa May hadn’t really done any campaigning.

Wpa Pool / Getty Images

In the referendum, she was officially on Team Remain, but she didn’t exactly shout about it – she cunningly managed to basically stay silent during the whole referendum campaign. Leadsom, on the other hand, was a proud Brexiter.

17. Andrea Leadsom’s supporters came out in droves to support her, mounting the single most awkward march in recent political history.

Stop everything and watch this video of Andrea Leadsom's march on parliament.

— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson)

I can’t breathe it’s too British.

18. It was at this point that Andrea Leadsom imploded.

Jack Taylor / Getty Images / emojistickers.com

There had already been a bit of a kerfuffle about her claims to have spent three decades working in the finance industry, which was a key part of her pitch for the job.

It turned out she hadn’t done much actual finance as part of her jobs, you see, and that maybe she’d somewhat inflated her own resume. But who doesn’t say they’re a banker on their CV, amirite?

19. Then she gave an interview to The Times saying that one of the reasons she’d be a better prime minister than May was that she had children and May didn’t.

Tomorrow's front page: Being a mother gives me edge on May - Leadsom

— The Times of London (@thetimes)

This did not go down well. Leadsom then made everything worse by insisting she’d been misquoted and attacking The Times for “gutter journalism”, which prompted The Times to release the audio and transcript of the interview, which proved she had said exactly what she’d been quoted as saying.

20. Monday rolled around, and at 11am Theresa May finally launched her official campaign to be prime minister.

Murmurs of approval in room as May kicks off by saying: "Brexit means Brexit & we're going to make a success of it"

— Emily Ashton (@elashton)

Look at her go.

21. And then at 12.15pm, Andrea Leadsom announced that she…was dropping out of the race.

"Don't believe I have sufficient support" -@andrealeadsom pulls out of #ToryLeadership race https://t.co/K6pbNn362q https://t.co/c5GWkxjEQr

— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking)

This confused the hell out of everybody, because the Conservative party rules weren’t entirely clear on what happens when a candidate drops out at this stage. Does one of the defeated candidates come in to replace them? Do they have to start the whole process again?

22. So what actually happened was that in the end, the decision about who’d be our next prime minister basically came down to this man, who is called Graham Brady and is the chair of something called the 1922 Committee.

Carl Court / Getty Images

The 1922 Committee may sound like it’s some kind of league of supervillains, but it’s actually an organisation of Conservative MPs! So it actually is kind of like a league of supervillains, amirite?! LOL jokes.

23. At 12.30pm, dear old Graham came out and told the press that the Conservative members didn’t need to have an election after all, because Theresa May was the only one left. And that’s how Britain found out it had a new prime minister: with a man called Graham awkwardly explaining rules to some people kneeling on the ground.

Matt Crossick

Classic Graham.

24. So yeah: Around 90 minutes after launching her campaign to be prime minister, Theresa May was announced as the next prime minister, making it possibly the shortest and most successful political campaign in history.

Oli Scarff/AFP / Getty Images / Blingee

Is it actually the shortest and most successful political campaign in history? We don’t know, we can’t be bothered to look it up.

(And as a reminder, Donald Trump announced he was running for president OVER A YEAR AGO.)

25. Possibly the most impressive aspect of it is that Theresa May managed it by doing basically nothing and letting all her enemies destroy themselves.

Theresa May's leadership campaign so far

— Alex Calvin (@_AlexCalvin)

26. So what now? Well, even though she was Team Remain, May is promising to uphold the results of the Referendum vote. She keeps saying “Brexit means Brexit”.

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images / BuzzFeed

Which is kind of like saying, “love means love”, or “narwajjleflack means narwajjleflack”, which is to say, it doesn’t mean very much.

Also, it’s not that surprising that she’d say this. What else would she say? “Hey, idiots! I know you all voted for this thing, but fuck you, I hate democracy! You’re all dickheads anyway!”

No, she probably wouldn’t say that. People wouldn’t like that at all. So instead she just says “Brexit means Brexit”.

27. And anyway, it’s still the case that nobody really knows what Brexit means.

#Brexit explained

— The European Post (@theEUpost)

Right now there’s loads of lawyers running around London with little metaphorical hard-ons doling out opinions about whether or not the UK needs to legally uphold the result of the referendum vote. And 1,000 of them recently came out and said they don’t think that the results of the referendum are actually legally binding.

Which is pretty funny, in a laughter-dissolving-into-hysterical-crying kind of way.

28. Anyway, this all happened on Monday. Unlike in the US, where you get a nice leisurely three-month changeover period, the removal van turned up at Downing Street the next day to cart all of David Cameron’s shit away.

Daniel Leal-olivas / AFP / Getty Images

Brutal.

29. But hold up! Theresa May doesn’t officially become prime minister until today. If we knew she was the last candidate standing on Monday, why didn’t she just become PM right away?

Paul Hackett / PA WIRE

Well, because in order to become prime minister, there’s one thing that needs to happen. GUESS WHAT IT IS? Yes, that’s right, they need to go have tea with the Queen! Because this is Britain.

And they couldn’t do that on Monday, because the Queen wasn’t in London. Lol we’re not even kidding.

All this political drama would make you thirsty for a nice cup of tea though, wouldn’t it? Finally, tea is involved in this story.

30. Also, David Cameron wanted one last chance to shout at all the MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions, which happens on Wednesdays.

Pa / PA WIRE

So this afternoon, now that Cameron is done with his shouting, everyone nips off to Buckingham Palace.

31. First of all David Cameron needs to go there to officially resign as prime minister. Then he slips out the back, while Theresa May rocks up to – this is honestly what it’s called – “kiss the Queen’s hand”, which is a thing she officially has to do before becoming prime minister.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

Although a firm handshake is considered acceptable these days, it’s still called “kissing hands”, because history or something.

Pictured: Mickey Rooney kissing the Queen’s hand. Mickey Rooney is not prime minister though, it doesn’t work like that.

32. And like that, Theresa May is prime minister, and gets to move all her shit into Downing Street!

Daniel Leal-olivas / AFP / Getty Images

This is a real picture of a delivery firm turning up on Wednesday morning with really large instructions on a piece of paper.

33. And that’s today’s British Absurdity Update. Check back in a few days’ time when everything has probably all gone to shit again.

whenever I check in with British politics:

— Maggy (@maggyvaneijk)

We’re so tired.

BBC

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Tom Phillips is the UK editorial director for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
Hannah Jewell is a senior staff writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
 
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