Leader of The Opposition (United Kingdom) - List of Leaders of The Opposition

List of Leaders of The Opposition

The table lists the people who were, or who acted as, Leaders of the Opposition in the two Houses of Parliament since 1807.

The leaders of the two Houses were of equal status, before 1922, unless one was the most recent Prime Minister for the party. Such a former Prime Minister was considered to be the overall Leader of the Opposition. From 1922 the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons was considered to be the overall Leader of the Opposition. Overall leaders names are bolded. Acting leaders names are in italics, unless the acting leader subsequently became a full leader during a continuous period as leader.

Due to the fragmentation of both principal parties in 1827–30, the Leaders and principal opposition parties suggested for those years are provisional.

A "+" after the name indicates that the Leader died in office.

Date Principal Opposition
Leader of the Opposition
House of Commons
Leader of the Opposition
House of Lords
March 1807 Whig vacant The Lord Grenville 1
1808 George Ponsonby +
8 July 1817 vacant
1817 The Earl Grey 2
1818 George Tierney
23 January 1821 vacant
1824 The 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne A
April 1827 High Tory Robert Peel 2 The Duke of Wellington 2
January 1828 Whig vacant The 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne A
February 1830 Viscount Althorp
November 1830 Tory Sir Robert Peel, Bt 2 The Duke of Wellington 3
November 1834 Whig Lord John Russell 2 The Viscount Melbourne 3
April 1835 Conservative Sir Robert Peel, Bt 3 The Duke of Wellington 1
August 1841 Whig Lord John Russell 2 The Viscount Melbourne 1
October 1842 The 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne
June 1846 Protectionist Conservative Lord George Bentinck The Lord Stanley of Bickerstaffe
(The Earl of Derby from 1851) 2
10 February 1848 Marquess of Granby
4 March 1848 vacant
February 1849 Marquess of Granby;
John Charles Herries; and
Benjamin Disraeli 2
1851 Benjamin Disraeli 2
February 1852 Whig Lord John Russell 3 The 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne
December 1852 Conservative Benjamin Disraeli 2 The Earl of Derby 3
February 1858 Whig The Viscount Palmerston 3 B The Earl Granville
June 1859 Conservative Benjamin Disraeli 2 The Earl of Derby 3
June 1866 Liberal William Ewart Gladstone 2 The Earl Russell
(formerly Lord John Russell)
December 1868 The Earl Granville
December 1868 Conservative Benjamin Disraeli 3 The Earl of Malmesbury
February 1869 The Lord Cairns
February 1870 The Duke of Richmond
February 1874 Liberal William Ewart Gladstone 3 The Earl Granville
February 1875 Marquess of Hartington
April 1880 Conservative Sir Stafford Northcote, Bt The Earl of Beaconsfield
(formerly Benjamin Disraeli)
+ 1
May 1881 The 3rd Marquess of Salisbury 2
June 1885 Liberal William Ewart Gladstone 3 The Earl Granville
February 1886 Conservative Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Bt The 3rd Marquess of Salisbury 3
July 1886 Liberal William Ewart Gladstone 3 The Earl Granville +
April 1891 The Earl of Kimberley
August 1892 Conservative Arthur James Balfour 2 The 3rd Marquess of Salisbury 3
June 1895 Liberal Sir William Harcourt C The Earl of Rosebery 1 D
January 1897 The Earl of Kimberley +
6 February 1899 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman 2
1902 The Earl Spencer
1905 The Marquess of Ripon
5 December 1905 Conservative Arthur James Balfour 1 E The 5th Marquess of Lansdowne
(Liberal Unionist Party until 1912)
1906 Joseph Chamberlain
(Liberal Unionist Party)
1906 Arthur James Balfour 1
13 November 1911 Andrew Bonar Law 2
25 May 1915 vacant F vacant F
19 October 1915 Opposition Conservative Sir Edward Carson
(Irish Unionist Party) F
6 December 1916 Opposition Liberal Herbert Henry Asquith 1 G The Marquess of Crewe
3 February 1919 Sir Donald Maclean H
1920 Herbert Henry Asquith 1
21 November 1922 Labour Ramsay MacDonald 2 vacant I
22 January 1924 Conservative Stanley Baldwin 3 The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston
4 November 1924 Labour Ramsay MacDonald 3 The Viscount Haldane +
1928 The Lord Parmoor
5 June 1929 Conservative Stanley Baldwin 3 The 4th Marquess of Salisbury
1930 The Viscount Hailsham
August 1931 Labour Arthur Henderson J The Lord Parmoor
November 1931 George Lansbury K The Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
25 October 1935 Clement Attlee 2 L The Lord Snell
22 May 1940 Hastings Lees-Smith + M The Lord Addison N
21 January 1942 Frederick Pethick-Lawrence M
February 1942 Arthur Greenwood M
23 May 1945 Clement Attlee 2
26 July 1945 Conservative Winston Churchill 3 Viscount Cranborne (The 5th Marquess
of Salisbury from 1947) O
26 October 1951 Labour Clement Attlee 1 The Viscount Addison +
1952 The Earl Jowitt
November 1955 Herbert Morrison P
14 December 1955 Hugh Gaitskell + The Viscount Alexander of
Hillsborough (The Earl Alexander of
Hillsborough from 1963)
18 January 1963 George Brown P
14 February 1963 Harold Wilson 2
16 October 1964 Conservative Sir Alec Douglas-Home 1 The Lord Carrington
28 July 1965 Edward Heath 2
19 June 1970 Labour Harold Wilson 3 The Lord Shackleton
4 March 1974 Conservative Edward Heath 1 The Lord Carrington
11 February 1975 Margaret Thatcher 2
4 May 1979 Labour James Callaghan 1 The Lord Peart
10 November 1980 Michael Foot
1982 The Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
2 October 1983 Neil Kinnock
18 July 1992 John Smith + The Lord Richard
12 May 1994 Margaret Beckett P
21 July 1994 Tony Blair 2
2 May 1997 Conservative John Major 1 Viscount Cranborne O
19 June 1997 William Hague
2 December 1998 The Lord Strathclyde
18 September 2001 Iain Duncan Smith
6 November 2003 Michael Howard
6 December 2005 David Cameron 2
11 May 2010 Labour Harriet Harman P The Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
25 September 2010 Ed Miliband
1 Formerly Prime Minister
2 Subsequently Prime Minister
3 Formerly and subsequently Prime Minister
A Foord suggests that Lansdowne was, in effect, acting Whig leader in 1824–27. This may possibly have also been the case in 1828–30. Grey's article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography suggests "... though he called on Lansdowne to take up the leadership of the opposition he was still unwilling to give it up altogether". Grey was in opposition in 1827–28, when Lansdowne was in government. Given the confusion of the politics of the period, particularly after 1827 when both principal parties were fragmented, it is possible that Grey should be considered Leader of the Opposition 1824–1830. However the definite statements (by Foord) that Grey resigned the leadership in 1824 and (by Cook & Keith) that Grey did not resume the leadership until November 1830 leads to a different conclusion.
B An alternative interpretation is that Palmerston (the immediate past Prime Minister) and Lord John Russell (a previous Prime Minister) were joint leaders. Cook & Keith have Palmerston as the sole leader.
C Harcourt resigned 14 December 1898.
D Rosebery resigned 6 October 1896.
E Balfour lost his seat in the House of Commons in January 1906.
F During Asquith's coalition government of 1915–1916, there was no formal opposition in either the Commons or the Lords. The only party not in Asquith's Liberal, Conservative, Labour Coalition was the Irish Nationalist Party led by John Redmond. However, this party supported the government and did not function as an Opposition. Sir Edward Carson, the leading figure amongst the Irish Unionist allies of the Conservative Party, resigned from the coalition ministry on 19 October 1915. He then became the de facto leader of those Unionists who were not members of the government, effectively Leader of the Opposition in the Commons.
G Asquith lost his seat in the House of Commons in December 1918.
H Douglas in The History of the Liberal Party 1895–1970 observes that "The technical question whether the Leader of the Opposition was Maclean or William Adamson, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, was never fully resolved ... The fact that Adamson did not press his claim for Opposition leadership is of more than technical interest, for it shows that the Labour Party was still not taking itself seriously as a likely alternative government".
I The Labour Party did not appoint a Leader in the Lords, until it formed its first government in 1924.
J Henderson lost his seat in the House of Commons on 27 October 1931.
K Lansbury was acting as Leader, in the absence from the House of Commons of Henderson, in 1931–1932; before becoming party leader himself in 1932.
L Attlee was acting as Leader, after the resignation of Lansbury on 25 October 1935, before being elected party leader himself on 3 December 1935.
M During World War II a succession of Labour politicians acted as Leader of the Opposition for the purpose of allowing the House of Commons to function normally. However, because the Government 1940–45 was a coalition government in which Labour politicians functioned fully as members of the Government, from Deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee downwards, none of them received the salary for the post of Leader of the Opposition. The largest party that opposed the war and was not part of the coalition - and therefore, in theory, the opposition was the Independent Labour Party led by James Maxton. With only three MPs, it tried to take over the opposition frontbench but was widely opposed in this venture.
N Lord Addison was not a member of the wartime coalition government. When Labour was part of the government from May 1940 until May 1945, Addison presumably functioned as a technical Leader of the Opposition, in the same way as the acting Leaders of the Opposition in the House of Commons.
O Viscount Cranborne is the courtesy title of the heir to the Marquess of Salisbury. Two Lords Cranborne have been Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. They sat in the House of Lords because of a writ of acceleration affecting one of the family Baronies.
P Commonly the acting leader, following the death or immediate resignation of the leader, but according to the Labour Party constitution the actual leader until the next leader is selected. Before 1981 the leader, in opposition, was elected annually by the Parliamentary Labour Party. After 1981 the leader is elected by an electoral college at a party conference.

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