View Single Post
Old 03-14-2019, 07:59 PM
UDS is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Australia
Posts: 8,933
Originally Posted by glowacks View Post
I was under the impression that the shadow cabinet was named so that the transfer of power when the election results come in can be as nearly instantaneous as possible. In the US we have several months between elections and the beginning of terms because we need time for the administration to get people into position after they know they've won. I thought the point of the shadow cabinet was at least in part to remove this lame duck period.
That would be a small part of the rationale. The main reason for having a shadow cabinet is that, in the Westminster system, Ministers (the executive) are permanently accountable to parliament, having to answer questions, speaking and voting in support of the legislation relevant to their portfolio, etc, etc. And they can be held to account to greater effect if there's a (somewhat) senior opposition politician whose particular responsiblity it is to "shadow" the minister, to be aware of and briefed on the policy issues that the minister is facing, to be involved in developing and promoting his own party's policy in relation to the same field, etc, etc.

If you hold a senior shadow portfolio - Treaury, Foreign Affairs - you're a pretty strong likelihood to be appointed to that ministry if there's a change of government, so you can hit the ground running. But this is less true for most of the other cabinet posts. For instance, the last time government changed from one party to another, in 2010, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer (George Osborne) and the new Foreign Secretary (William Hague) had held those posts in the shadow cabinet immediately before the election, but the new Home Secretary (Teresa May) had been shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions just before the election, while the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Iain Duncan Smith) hadn't been in the shadow cabinet at all.

This is partly because there's much more to being a cabinet minister than knowing something about your particular department. The UK cabinet is much more of a collective body than the US cabinet. It meets weekly for very substantive meetings at which government policy is determined, and various cabinet committees meet several times a week. All members are expected to be abreast of, and supportive of, government policy in all areas. Because cabinet functions collectively in this way, its necessary that it should be representative of different factions with in the party, different regions in the country, etc, etc. so individual ministers are appointed both with an eye to their fitness for a particular portfolio and with an eye to how their inclusion will affect the makeup and functioning of cabinet overall. Detailed familiarity with the portfolio is an optional extra; the minister will be surrounded by highly-aware and highly-experienced permanent civil servants who can supply all the knowledge and expertise he or she needs. That's the theory, anyway. This system does favour, not ministers who are technical experts in their portfolio area, but ministers who have the aptitude to master new information quickly, and the leadership capacity to make their mark on the departments who which they are assigned, rather than to be led by the technocrats already in the department.

Last edited by UDS; 03-14-2019 at 08:01 PM.