The new six-member opposition got off to a strong start this month by appointing a shadow cabinet.

The move — which assigns a specific portfolio to each opposition member — is a valuable first step toward organising the large and experienced opposition to better do its job. If handled properly, the arrangement should help strengthen this democracy.

The shadow system, which is also used in the parliaments of the United Kingdom and other large commonwealth countries, has many advantages.

Most importantly, it focuses opposition members’ responsibilities — whether they are opposing or collaborating with their colleagues across the aisle. In this case, it should also help unite them, providing an important antidote to the potential infighting that could easily paralyse an opposition divided across three parties.

Such focused collaboration has often been sorely lacking in previous oppositions. Many past members have been largely content to go with the flow: When they bothered to show up at all, they frequently limited their contributions to political attacks rather than comprehensive efforts to push for a better territory.

We hope that the creation of the shadow cabinet is an indication that the new opposition plans to turn over a new leaf.

Assigning the shadow ministers, however, is the easy part. For the system to function optimally, sustained hard work will be required over the next four years.

Shadow ministers’ duties are wide-ranging, and success will require leaving the usual rhetoric and political games at the door.

In coming House of Assembly meetings, we hope to see robust question-and-answer sessions where each shadow minister grills their government counterpart with well-researched and relevant queries designed to hold them accountable and to ensure that the public fully understands the issues at stake.

At other times, the shadow ministers will need to collaborate closely with the government on areas of mutual interest. Their support, for instance, could go a long way to better researching proposed bills, policies and other material that comes to the HOA.

They should also push for greater openness and explore ways to strengthen the HOA through additional standing committees.

The shadow cabinet’s work should also extend outside the legislature. To start, members should each hold regular press briefings focused on their portfolios, updating the public on their views of the government’s progress and explaining their own ideas for a better way forward.

For its part, the government should treat the strong opposition not as an adversary but as a partner, earnestly engaging with its members on the very serious challenges facing the territory.

Taking the usual dim view of the opposition held by so many past governments would be a major strategic error with very real consequences. It was the electorate, after all, who chose a strong opposition in the first place.

Particularly at a time when a constitutional review is under way, the appointment of a shadow cabinet is an important step toward political maturity for the Virgin Islands. Opposition members deserve kudos for forming it.

Now both sides of the aisle must roll up their sleeves and work together to improve the territory.