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I Was interested to see that Alan Watkins (30 November) attributes to the early 19th-century statesman George Canning the statement that the role of backbenchers is to "cheer the minister". The problem is that "backbenchers" are not recorded as such until the 1870s and Canning died in 1827. He was certainly attributed by J E Ritchie in Modern Statesmen (1861) with the observation that the function of a whip, or, rather, whipper- in, as he would have been called in Canning's time, was "to make a House, and keep a House, and cheer the Minister" but so far as I am aware no contemporary record of this remark has ever been traced.

George Chowdharay-Best

London SW3