The Shadow Cabinet or Shadow Ministry is a feature of the Westminster system of government. It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mirror the positions of each individual member of the Cabinet. It is the Shadow Cabinet's responsibility to scrutinise the policies and actions of the government, as well as to offer an alternative program. The Shadow Cabinet makes up the majority of the Official Opposition frontbench.
In most countries, a member of the shadow cabinet is referred to as a Shadow Minister. In the United Kingdom's House of Lords and in New Zealand, the term "spokesperson" is used instead of "shadow". In Canada, however, the term Opposition Critic is more common.
The shadow minister's duties may give them considerable prominence in the party caucus hierarchy especially if it is a high-profile portfolio, although their salary and benefits remain the same as a backbencher. Members of a shadow cabinet may not necessarily be appointed to the corresponding Cabinet post if and when their party forms a government.
In the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand the major opposition party and specifically its shadow cabinet is called His or Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. The adjective "loyal" is used because, while the role of the opposition is to oppose Her Majesty's Government, it does not dispute the sovereign's right to the throne and therefore the legitimacy of the government. However, in other countries that use the Westminster system, the opposition is known simply as The Parliamentary Opposition.
Some parliamentary parties, notably the Australian Labor Party, elect all the members of their shadow cabinets in a party room ballot, with the Leader of the Opposition then allocating portfolios to the Shadow Ministers. In other parliamentary parties, the membership and composition of the Shadow Cabinet is generally determined solely by the Leader of the Opposition.
In many jurisdictions, third parties (which are neither participant in the government nor in the official opposition) may also form their own parliamentary front benches of spokespersons; however, parliamentary standing orders on the right of parties to speak often dictate that it can only be granted to a party or group if a minimum number of members can be recorded by the party. In Ireland, for example, technical groups are often formed by third parties and independent TDs in the Dáil Éireann in order to increase the members' right to speak against larger parties which can afford the right to speak as Front Benches in Government or Opposition.
While the practice of parliamentary shadow cabinets or frontbenches is not widespread in Germany, party leaders have often formed boards of experts and advisors ("teams of experts", or Kompetenzteam, in CDU/CSU and SPD parlance; alternate "top team", or Spitzenteam, in Bündnis '90/Die Grünen parlance). In France, although the formation of a Shadow Cabinet is not compulsory and not common, several Shadow Cabinets have been formed.
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This note outlines the rights and privileges of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, or the Official Opposition, as the party with the second largest number of seats within the House of Commons is known.