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Leader of the Opposition (UK)

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(CC) Photo: UK Parliament
Jeremy Corbyn has been Leader of the Opposition since 2015.

The Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of the United Kingdom is that MP[1] who is leader of the largest political party or parliamentary group in opposition to the government in the House of Commons. The holder is entitled to the same salary as a Cabinet minister. The Opposition Leader appoints a Shadow Cabinet of senior Opposition politicians, each of whom scrutinises the work of equivalent government ministers. In the House of Lords, the leader of the second-largest party or group is also known as the Leader of the Opposition, but out of context the title usually refers to the Commons Opposition leader, who is most likely also the overall party leader.

The Leader of the Opposition has been Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, since September 2015.

House of Commons

When the Leader of the Opposition's party wins a general election, it is expected that he or she will become the next Prime Minister, after being invited by the head of state to form a new government. In contrast, a new Leader of the Opposition emerges immediately, without any formal ceremony - for example, when John Major resigned as Prime Minister in 1997 following an election defeat, he left Buckingham Palace as the Leader of the Opposition, as his party was now second-placed in terms of number of seats in Parliament. By contrast, when Gordon Brown stepped down as Prime Minister, he did not become Leader of the Opposition due to his resignation from the leadership of the second-placed Labour Party.

The office of Leader of the Opposition and their party receive the largest share of 'Short money' (state funding); for example, in 2005-2006 the Conservatives received over £4 million in various expenses, with money also spent on vehicles and security.[2] In other words, in the British parliamentary system, the public pays political parties to oppose the elected government.

As a potential Prime-Minister-in-waiting, the Leader of the Opposition frequently appears in the media, commenting and criticising on the government's activities, and presenting alternative proposals that might form policy in their own future government. Their most prominent parliamentary duty is the weekly appearance at a debate known as 'Prime Minister's Questions', in which the Leader of the Opposition faces the Prime Minister over the floor of the House of Commons. The Opposition Leader asks six questions, which are not made available to the Prime Minister's office in advance. Another way in which parliamentary activities present the Opposition Leader as a potential Prime Minister is at the State Opening of Parliament, where they join the Prime Minister at the head of a procession from the Commons to the House of Lords.

Although the post had existed de facto for some time before, it was legally created by the Ministers of the Crown Act 1937, which defined it as above and allocated a Cabinet minister's salary to the Leader. This was repealed by the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975, which replaced the post with two separate Leaders of the Opposition, one in each House. By convention, the Commons Leader of the Opposition is considered "the" Leader of the Opposition.

Footnotes

  1. If the official opposition party were to have an official leader outside the Commons, as some other parties have, that person would not be Leader of the Opposition.
  2. The Review of the Funding of Political Parties: 'Existing state funding - what political parties are already entitled to'.