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What all does a "Shadow Secretary" do?
November 4, 2012 3:46 PM   Subscribe

What all does a "Shadow Secretary" do?

I've been watching "The Thick of It" this past week, and I've been trying to figure out what a Shadow Minister does exactly. They appear to be an opposition research team on the show, where they check on operations of DoSAC, and then point out embarrassing issues to the press. Wikipedia also says that shadow cabinet members put forth alternative policy recommendations. But being something like Secretary for Transport is more than just policy work. General administrative work would be taking up most of your time day to day. So, what is taking up the day-to-day of a Shadow Secretary's day? Is this just an office that they do part of the time and then they have regular minister duties in addition to it?
posted by ArthurBarnhouse to Law & Government (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
A Shadow Minister is going to be from the Opposition, so they won't have any real access to the Ministry and no part in running it. So no regular ministerial or admin duties, no staff or HR issues, the Shadow Minister can cherry pick the issues they (the Opposition) want to make an issue of and completely ignore anything that they don't want to talk about, including all the boring minutia of actually running the Ministry.
posted by tiamat at 3:51 PM on November 4, 2012


There is an excellent report "In the shadows: the Shadow Cabinet in Australia" (PDF) that provides detailed info on the Shadow system in Australia, with some British background as well. I am not sure how different the two systems are today.

If the PDF link doesn't work, just search for the report title (Author: Joel Bateman) on Google or here.
posted by vidur at 3:57 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


For example, here's the UK's current 'official' shadow cabinet from the Labour Party.

The shadows have – with the exception of the Leader of the Opposition and the opposition party whips – no constitutional status or additional parliamentary salary (of course, their political party may pay them more and appoint them a staff). However, the Leader of the Opposition may appoint someone to speak for an extended period on his behalf in topical debates in opposing the government; this would, in reality, be the shadow minister.

In addition to opposing for the sake of opposing, they may also be in charge of researching and preparing the aspect of the party's manifesto for which they are shadow. If there were a snap election and the opposition took control, they would normally be expected to assume the role for which they had been shadow.

Unfortunately parliament.uk is down at the moment, it seems, but here is the ministerial salaries factsheet, and here is the procedure factsheet, where the timing issue is discussed.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 4:17 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


A shadow secretary can only be a shadow secretary if he or she is an elected MP, so in addition to their shadow cabinet role, they will also be fulfilling their constituency role.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:37 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no idea what "The Thick of It" is, but here's my understanding, as an American, of what a Shadow Cabinet is.

A Shadow Cabinet is a way for the opposition party (the party of out power) to show the country what it would be doing if it was in charge. Here's what we would be doing on the economy, here's what we would be doing on defense, here's what we would be doing on the environment. The shadow cabinet creates more-or-less official spokespeople for all of these policy areas in the opposition party.

In the United States we have no such thing. First off, we have divided government, with three wings of elected power (President, House, Senate) each of which can be controlled by a separate party. Secondly, as far as the executive, there is not any official voice of the opposition party. Mitch McConnell can spout of about how he disagrees with President Obama, but Mitt Romney can take a different position, and so can Eric Cantor.

A parliamentary system and a Shadow Cabinet makes it much clearer, at least ostensibly, what you'd be getting if you elect "the other guys". In the US, by contrast, Mitt Romney can run with 18 different positions on each issue, nearly have the population will still vote for him, and then when he's elected he'll claim a mandate to dismantle Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, HUD, and the EPA. And of course, the press will agree that he has such a mandate. I believe a Shadow Cabinet makes it much harder to pull BS like that. But maybe I'm over idealizing what someone else's version of democracy looks like.
posted by alms at 4:43 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is an excellent report "In the shadows: the Shadow Cabinet in Australia" (PDF) that provides detailed info on the Shadow system in Australia, with some British background as well. I am not sure how different the two systems are today.

This is an excellent report.

If you are especially interested in this topic, you can read how an actual Cabinet functions here and here. A Shadow Cabinet, of which Shadow Ministers/Sectaries are members, is essentially a less formal, less funded version of its actual Cabinet counterpart.
posted by kithrater at 5:25 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A followup, based on the responses: In the event of a parliamentary election which changes the majority, with a new Prime Minister, would it be expected that these "shadows" would in fact take charge in the respective Ministries?
posted by yclipse at 5:35 PM on November 4, 2012


In the event of a parliamentary election which changes the majority, with a new Prime Minister, would it be expected that these "shadows" would in fact take charge in the respective Ministries?

It may be expected, but the obligation is political, not legal.
posted by vidur at 6:51 PM on November 4, 2012


In the event of a parliamentary election which changes the majority, with a new Prime Minister, would it be expected that these "shadows" would in fact take charge in the respective Ministries?
Sometimes, but the political obligation (as vidur puts it) is generally honoured in terms of seniority; when there's an election in which the Government changes, Shadow Ministers tend to expect Ministerial appointments of roughly equivalent rank rather than policy role. With a few special cases—the Attorney General tends to be a solicitor, or at least a lawyer, there have been many doctors as Minister for Health, and in Australia when there are conservative Coalition (Liberal-National Party) Governments, the Prime Minister leads the Liberal Party and the Deputy PM is the leader of the National Party.

Also remember that to be in the Shadow Cabinet you've got to first be an MP; it often happens that an MP acting as spokesperson or Shadow Minister doesn't win (or contest) her/his seat at the election which changes the Government.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:24 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Canadian term is "critic", which actually sums up the job fairly well. In a adversarial parliamentary system (i.e. the Westminster model) the shadow/critics are meant to lead in scrutiny of the ministers, and have additional (party) staff to perform that function, although as Talkie Toaster noted, only three of the UK shadow cabinet get additional salary as a result.

It may be expected, but the obligation is political, not legal.

As seen in Canada when Stockwell Day got the job of foreign affairs critic after losing the CPC leadership election to Stephen Harper, but didn't get the ministry in government.
posted by holgate at 9:01 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


A Shadow Cabinet is a way for the opposition party (the party of out power) to show the country what it would be doing if it was in charge.

An important point to remember about Westminster systems -- I make the distinction, because other parliamentary systems differ here -- is that power changes hands, for the most part, the day after the election. There is no US-style transition, no period of deliberation or coalition-forming: the assumption is that the no-longer-opposition must hit the ground running, and the permanent civil service will already have briefing books prepared for the incoming minister, with the broad assumption that it will be the former shadow.
posted by holgate at 9:08 PM on November 4, 2012


A good fiction book about the UK government is "First among Equals" by Jeffery Archer. It's probably pretty dated now, but is a fairly good tale.
posted by kjs4 at 9:30 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shadow Cabinet (and indeed Cabinet) members are mostly, but not all MPs. Some are Peers (ie members of the House of Lords).

Beneath the Shadow Cabinet, there are also shadow minister or spokesmen. So there will be a Shadow Secretary of State for Education and also a Shadow Schools Minister. The Shadow Minister is responsible to the Shadow Secretary of State for policy development (and oppostion) in his or her area.

One a month each department takes questions in the House of Commosn for an hour. The Shadow Secretary of State will ask questions of the actual Secretary of State and the shadow ministers will question the junior ministers.
posted by tonylord at 5:19 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


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