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Shadow Cabinet in United Kingdom

Rise of the Cabinet in General: History

Since this practice, with the many customs which have grown up about it, has become a most essential part of the government of the United Kingdom today, and has been copied in recent times by many other countries, it is important to understand its early history. Even before the accession of the Tudors, the Great Council of nobles and prelates which had advised and assisted early kings in matters of administration had surrendered most of its actual functions to a score or so of “Privy Councilors.” The Privy Council in turn became unwieldy, and allowed an inner circle or “cabal” of its most energetic members to direct the conduct of affairs. This inner circle was called a cabinet or cabinet council, because it conferred with the king in a small private room (cabinet), and under the restored Stuarts it was extremely unpopular.

William III, more interested in getting money and troops to defend his native Holland against Louis XIV than in governing England, allowed his ministers free rein in most matters. So long as the Whigs held a majority of the seats in the Commons, William found that the wheels of government turned smoothly if all his ministers were Whigs. On the other hand, when the Tories gained a preponderance in the Commons, the Whig ministers were so distasteful to the new majority of the Commons that it was necessary to replace them with Tories. Queen Anne, although her sincere devotion to Anglicanism inclined her to the Tories, was forced to appoint Whig ministers. Only toward the close of her reign (1710) did Anne venture to dismiss the Whigs.

Under George I (1714-1727) it became customary for the king to absent himself from cabinet-meetings. (It will be remembered that George could not speak English.) This tended to make the cabinet even more independent of the sovereign, as shown by the fact that Anne was the last to use her prerogative to veto bills. From 1714 to 1761 was the great era of Whig domination.

Shadow Cabinet Meaning in Politics

Description of Shadow Cabinet published by Mona Chalabi: Leading members of the country’s second-largest party form a cabinet that “shadows” their opposition. Their role is to closely scrutinize the work of government and wait in the wings until the next general election.

Shadow Cabinet Meaning, as used in the UK Parliament

The Shadow Cabinet is the team of senior spokespeople chosen by the Leader of the Opposition to mirror the Cabinet in Government. Each member of the shadow cabinet is appointed to lead on a specific policy area for their party and to question and challenge their counterpart in the Cabinet. In this way the Official Opposition seeks to present itself as an alternative government-in-waiting.


See Also

    • Cabinet
    • Opposition
    • Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
    • War Cabinet
    • Leader of the Opposition
    • Political Cabinet
    • Cabinet Minister
    • Government

Further Reading

Mary T. Blauvelt, The Development of Cabinet Government in England (1902), a clear brief outline; Edward Jenks, Parliamentary England: the Evolution of the Cabinet System (1903); and the general constitutional histories mentioned above. The best account of Sir Robert Walpole is the biography by John (Viscount) Morley (1889).

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Shadow Cabinet
  • Author: B. Hepple
  • Description: Rise of the Cabinet in General: History Since this practice, with the many customs which have grown up about it, has become [...]

This entry was last updated: October 30, 2016



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