Preparing a shadow ministerial team for office

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Grant Dalton; Beatrice Barr

May 5, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at lessons that can be learnt from 1997 and 2010 in preparing the shadow Cabinet.

In the UK the main party of government has changed only twice in three decades. In 1997, Labour took over after 18 years of Conservative rule; in 2010, after 13 years of Labour, the Conservatives again became the largest party, entering a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The next general election, expected in 2024, will mark 14 years of Conservative or Conservative-led government; current opinion polls suggest government may change hands again. The Institute for Government is undertaking research in preparation for the expected 2024 election and all its potential outcomes, including looking at how the opposition and the civil service should prepare for a possible transition of government. Among the many competing demands on any leader of the opposition is to create a strong shadow ministerial team capable of an effective transition – and then, crucially, of effective government. The timing of any reshuffles to achieve this aim is important. This Insight looks at the pattern of reshuffles around the 1997 and 2010 elections, the ministerial and shadow experience of those eventually appointed in those new governments, and what impact this had on their work as ministers. Drawing on the Institute for Government’s data analysis, reports and Ministers Reflect archive, we identify lessons for how Sir Keir Starmer should approach building his shadow ministerial team before a 2024 general election. In particular, we look at how Starmer should time and approach a potential reshuffle, now mooted to take place in the autumn, to increase the effectiveness of his shadow team if they enter government.