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AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

A backbencher is a legislator who doesn’t hold a government office or is not a frontbench spokesman in the Opposition. They are simply members of the Parliamentary “rank and file”.

The term originated in 1855 in the UK, where it refers to Members of Parliament (MPs) with no ministerial, or shadow ministerial office.

Someone is a backbencher because they might be a new MP yet to be promoted to high office, or they might be a senior figure who has been dropped from government, or they could be someone who for a variety of reasons hasn’t been chosen to sit in a ministry or opposition shadow ministry. In some cases, the backbencher has chosen to be in that position as they prefer the role to what they might view as the ‘compromises’ of being a government minister.

Especially in the latter case, the backbencher may not be a reliable supporter of their party’s goals and policies (for instance, Jeremy Corbyn rebelled against the Labour party line over 500 times).

Backbenchers do not tend to have much ability to influence government policy. However, they still play a role in providing services to and relaying opinions from their constituents, sitting on parliamentary committees and also they may join together to combat unpopular government policies or to exploit internal splits in the governing party. So they do provide valuable input into the legislative process.

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