Character spotlight: Ruth Morris, Leader of the Opposition
Updated: Nov 10
One of the main suspects in Mystery in the Palace of Westminster is Ruth Morris, the Leader of the Opposition.
The Leader of the Opposition is a real role in Parliament. Here I'm going to delve into Ruth's character and the truth behind the fiction.
Ruth has been a member of her party all her adult life. She hasn’t been its leader very long; only since the last election two years ago, when her predecessor resigned after losing.
She doesn’t look like the usual idea of a conventional politician. She likes to wear bright, informal clothes, unlike Will Duncan’s dark suits.
Under her leadership, her party are opposing the House of Lords Reform Bill that Will Duncan is trying to pass.
The role of the Leader of the Opposition
As the Leader of the Opposition, it’s Ruth’s job to hold the government to account in Parliament. This means she makes the government explain all of their plans and she criticises them if she thinks they have done something wrong.
Ruth attends Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons. She can ask the Prime Minister a question on any topic and the Prime Minister must try to answer her. This is a good opportunity show the public the weaknesses in the government's policies.
Just like the Prime Minister, Ruth must choose Members of Parliament to form her Shadow Cabinet. They each have an opposite number in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet and they scrutinise the work done in their own department.
The Leader of the Opposition must also be an MP, so they still have work to carry out in their own constituency. They are paid just under £145,000 per year. This is made up of their salary for being an MP (which is nearly £82,000 per year) and their additional pay for their role – £63,000.
The ultimate aim of the Leader of the Opposition is to win a general election for their party. If they can do that, then they become the Prime Minister.
History of the role
George Ponsonby was the first MP to be called the Leader of the Opposition in 1808, making the role just over 200 years old. Before that, there had been no single party that was nearly as big as the governing party. There were lots of smaller groups of parties.
It wasn’t until 1937 that the position became officially recognised. The Ministers of the Crown Act set out the salary for the role. It also gave a definition for the role and instructions about what to do if it wasn’t clear who it should be. In that case, the Speaker of the House of Commons would decide who became the Leader of the Opposition.
The Leader of the Opposition in real life
The Leader of the Opposition is currently Sir Keir Starmer. He is the leader of the Labour Party and was elected to this position in April 2020. He has been an MP since 2015.
Before that Starmer was a lawyer. He was head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions. This meant he had overall responsibility for some of the highest profile criminal prosecutions in England and Wales.
He was named after Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Labour Party in Parliament.