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Alternative government

The opposition party usually tries to present itself as the best alternative to the Government so they can attract voters and support, and provide a clear choice for voters.


Shadow cabinet

The opposition party usually puts forward a ‘shadow’ cabinet, with ‘shadow’ ministers.

The shadow cabinet is made up of MPs who represent areas such as healthcare, jobs, the Treasury and the Home Office, but not in an official government capacity.

This means that different policies can be researched, and representatives from the shadow cabinet can debate government cabinet ministers.

The shadow cabinet tries to demonstrate that it is a ‘government-in-waiting’.



Opposition raise issues for debate and debate with the government on legislation in the committee stage and second reading of the legislative process.

Opposition members make up part of all committees and member of opposition chairs the Public Accounts Committee.

The opposition can scrutinise government policies and oppose them in Parliament.


Executive scrutiny

The opposition uses question time, adjournment debates and PMQs to challenge the executive and hold them to account.

For example, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has used PMQs to ask the PM questions submitted by the public.

The opposition often opposes government legislation and tries to stop it passing, or votes against it to demonstrate discontent.

If the opposition gets support from other small parties they can stop bills from passing.


Size of the majority

The size of the government’s majority impacts on how strong an opposition can fulfil its roles.

The opposition often fails to defeat government legislation if the government has a large majority.


Examples of different majorities

Theresa May’s government does not have a majority and relies on a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

So, May’s government is vulnerable to the Labour opposition.

If the Labour party can get enough votes and encourage other parties to vote against the Government, Government legislation may not pass.

Tony Blair’s 1997 government had a majority of 179 seats, and so the Conservative opposition had less power.



Unity within each party impacts on the opposition’s significance. A united opposition or a divided government gives the opposition more chance of successfully voting down government legislation.



The opposition are significant in offering a clear alternative for voters, as their policies will often differ from those of the government.

If the opposition party’s policies are not radically different from the main party, they can either gain support (if voters like the government party), or lose support (if voters are looking for an alternative).