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definition - Whip (politics)

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Whip (politics)


A whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are a party's "enforcers", who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy. A whip's role is also to ensure that the elected representatives of their party are in attendance when important votes are taken. The usage comes from the hunting term whipping in, i.e. preventing hounds from wandering away from the pack.

The term "whip" is also used to mean:

  • the voting instructions issued to members by the whip,[1] or
  • in the UK and Ireland, a party's endorsement of a member of parliament; to 'withdraw the whip' is to expel an MP from his political party. (The elected member in question would retain his or her parliamentary seat, as an independent.)



In the Parliament of Australia, as well as in the parliaments of the six states and two self-governing territories, all political parties have whips to ensure party discipline and carry out a variety of other functions on behalf of the party leadership. The most important function of the whip's office is to ensure that all members and senators are present to take part in votes in the chamber (maintaining quorum and preventing censure motions).[2] Unlike in the United Kingdom, Australian whips do not hold official office, but they are recognised for parliamentary purposes. In practice, Australian whips play a lesser role than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, as party discipline in Australia tends to be tighter.[3]

Their roles in the chamber include taking divisions, and maintaining a "pairs book" which controls the ability of members and senators to leave the parliament building during sittings, as well as the entitlement to be absent during divisions.

Liberal Party whips are appointed by the leader of the party, while Australian Labor Party whips are elected by the Caucus. Each Chief Whip is assisted by two Deputy Whips.[4] In the coalition one of the Deputy Whips is always the National Party whip.[citation needed]

Similar arrangements exist in the state and territory parliaments.



Whips exist for all parliamentary parties in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.[5] The government Chief Whip is normally a Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach,[6] and attends cabinet meetings.[7] The whips of each house meet weekly to set the agenda for the next week's business.[7] The Technical Group in the Dáil and the analogous Independent groups in the Seanad nominate whips to attend these meetings; there is no party line for these whips to enforce, since the groups are purely administrative conveniences rather than alliances of principle.[8] Whips also coordinate pairing.[5][7]

From 1998, whips and assistant whips may be entitled to an allowance on top of their base legislator's salary.[9] In 2011, these allowances varied proportional to the size of the group, with Fianna Fáil's Dáil whip's allowance the highest at €19,000.[10]


In Greece, party discipline is normally very strict. However, a few governments have collapsed despite this strictness. The role of the whip is usually exercised by the party leader but Kostas Karamanlis, the Prime Minister from 2004 to 2009 and former leader of the New Democracy party, mostly used Giannis Tragakis, General Secretary of his party parliamentary group, as a whip. Until November 2008, New Democracy, Karamanlis' party, had 152 MPs out of 300. When Petros Tatoulis, MP for Arcadia Prefecture, stated that Karamanlis was guilty of a few political scandals, Karamanlis immediately expelled him from both the parliamentary group and the party, as a result giving New Democracy a majority of only one seat.[citation needed]


In India, the concept of the whip was inherited from colonial British rule. In India every major political party appoints a whip who is responsible for the party's discipline and behaviour on the floor of the house. Usually, he/she directs the party members to stick to the party's stand on certain issues and directs them to vote as per the direction of senior party members.[citation needed]


  New Zealand

In New Zealand, the concept of the whip was inherited from colonial British rule. All political parties have party whips, although Green Party whips are called musterers.[11]

  South Africa

Although South Africa uses a proportional representation system, the concept of a political party whip, which was inherited from colonial British rule, has been maintained.[12]

  United Kingdom

In British politics, the Chief Whip of the governing party in the House of Commons is customarily appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury so that the incumbent, who represents the whips in general, has a seat and a voice in the Cabinet. By virtue of holding the office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, the Government Chief Whip has an official residence at 12 Downing Street, although the Chief Whip's office is currently located at 9 Downing Street. Whips report to the Prime Minister on any possible back bench revolts and the general opinion of MPs within the party, and upon the exercise of the patronage which is used to motivate and reward loyalty.

In the United Kingdom, there are three categories of whip that are issued on particular business. An express instruction how to vote could constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege, so the party's wishes are expressed unequivocally but indirectly. These whips are issued to MPs in the form of a letter outlining the Parliamentary schedule, with a sentence such as "Your attendance is absolutely essential" next to each debate in which there will be a vote, underlined one, two or three times according to the severity of the whip:

  • A single-line whip is a guide to what the party's policy would indicate, and notification of when the vote is expected to take place; this is non-binding for attendance or voting.
  • A two-line whip, sometimes known as a double-line whip, is an instruction to attend and vote; partially binding for voting, attendance required unless prior permission given by the whip.
  • A three-line whip is a strict instruction to attend and vote, breach of which would normally have serious consequences. Permission not to attend may be given by the whip, but a serious reason is needed. Breach of a three-line whip can lead to expulsion from the parliamentary political group in extreme circumstances and may lead to expulsion from the party. Consequently, three-line whips are generally only issued on key issues, such as votes of confidence and supply. The nature of three-line whips and the potential punishments for revolt vary dramatically among parties and legislatures. Disobeying a three-line whip is by definition a newsworthy event, indicating as it does a potential mutiny; an example was the decision on 24 October 2011 by 81 Conservative MPs to vote against Prime Minister David Cameron on the issue of a referendum on the UK's role in the European Union.[13]

  United States

In the United States there are legislatures at the local (city councils, town councils, county boards, etc.), state and federal level. The federal legislature (Congress), state legislatures, and many county and city legislative bodies are divided along party lines and have whips, as well as majority and minority leaders.

Both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and Senate, have majority and minority whips. They in turn have subordinate "regional" whips. While members of Congress often vote along party lines, the influence of the whip is weaker than in the UK system. For one thing, much money is raised by individual candidates, and members of Congress are almost never ejected from a party. In addition, because preselection of candidates for office is generally done through primary elections open to a wide number of voters, it is difficult for the national party to deselect a member of Congress who defies his party in a way that pleases his or her constituency.

Because members of Congress cannot serve simultaneously in executive positions, a whip in the United States cannot bargain with a member by using as an inducement the possibility of promotion or demotion in a sitting administration. There is, however, a highly structured committee system in both houses of Congress, and a whip may be able to use promotion or demotion within that system instead. In the House of Representatives in particular, the influence of a single member individually is relatively small and therefore depends a great deal on the Representative's seniority —that is, in most cases, on the length of time he has held office (which usually depends on how well the Representative pleases his constituents, rather than on how well he pleases the other members of his party).

Whips in the United States, then, are less menacing in their techniques than in the United Kingdom. Even so, stepping too far outside the party's platform can limit political ambitions or ability to obtain favorable legislation.

In the Senate, the Majority Whip is the third-highest-ranking individual in the majority party (i.e., the party with a majority or, rarely, plurality of seats). The Majority Whip is outranked by the Majority Leader and, technically, the President pro tempore. Because the office of President pro tempore is largely honorific, usually given to the longest-serving senator of the majority, the Majority Whip is in reality the second-ranking senator in the Majority Conference in terms of actual power. Similarly, in the House the Majority Whip is outranked by both the Majority Leader and the Speaker. Unlike the Senate's presiding officer, the Speaker is the leader of his or her party's caucus in the House.

In both the House and the Senate, the Minority Whip is the second highest-ranking individual in the minority party (the party with the lesser number of legislators in a legislative body), outranked only by the Minority Leader.

The Whip position was first created in the House of Representatives in 1897 by Speaker Thomas Reed (R-ME), who appointed James A. Tawney (R-MN) as the first whip. The first Democratic whip was appointed around 1900.[14][15] In the Senate, the whip position was created in 1913 by John W. Kern, chair of the Democratic caucus, when he appointed J. Hamilton Lewis (D-IL) as the first whip. Republicans chose James Wadsworth (R-NY) as their first whip in 1915.[16]


  1. ^ Pandiyan, M. Veera (May 14, 2006). How the term 'Whip' came to be used in Parliament. The Star (Malaysia).
  2. ^ Parliamentary Education Office. Fact Sheet 36: The Party Whip.
  3. ^ Parliament of Australia: Parliamentary Library. Free Votes in Australian and some Overseas Parliaments.
  4. ^ Parliamentary Education Office. Fact Sheet 36: The Party Whip.
  5. ^ a b "Whips". Glossary. Dublin: Oireachtas. http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/education/glossary/#W. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  6. ^ MacCarthaigh, Muiris (2008-09). Government in Modern Ireland. Institute of Public Administration. p. 37, fn.6. ISBN 978-1-904541-72-1. http://books.google.com/books?id=q80bAQAAMAAJ. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c MacCarthaigh, Muiris (2005). "How parliamentary accountability functions in Ireland". Accountability in Irish parliamentary politics. Institute of Public Administration. pp. 147–150. ISBN 978-1-904541-31-8. http://books.google.com/books?id=GloNPkwnR2AC&pg=PA147. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  8. ^ Murphy, Catherine (2 June 2011). Dáil Reform: Statements. Oireachtas. Vol. 734 No.2 p.6 c.250. http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2011/06/02/00006.asp#N114. Retrieved 21 February 2012. "I act as the Whip for the Technical Group, which a bit of a misnomer because the Technical Group is just that and is a way of facilitating a very diverse group and not about whipping people into line or telling them how to vote, which would not be possible with the particular group considering the diversity it contains." 
  9. ^ Oireachtas (Allowances To Members) and Ministerial, Parliamentary, Judicial and Court Offices (Amendment) Act, 1998 Irish Statute Book
  10. ^ S.I. No. 347/2011 — Oireachtas (Allowances) (Members and Holders of Parliamentary and Certain Ministerial Offices) Order 2011 Irish Statute Book
  11. ^ Green Party of New Zealand: The Musterer replaces Whips in the Green Party. [1].
  12. ^ Parliamentary Monitoring Group. Structure of Government - Office bearers of legislative institutions
  13. ^ Watt, Nicholas (24 October 2011). "David Cameron rocked by record rebellion as Europe splits Tories again". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/oct/24/david-cameron-tory-rebellion-europe?CMP=EMCGT_251011&. 
  14. ^ "Democratic Whips". Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. http://clerk.house.gov/art_history/house_history/dem_whips.html. Retrieved April 21, 2010. 
  15. ^ "History of the Whip". Office of the House Majority Whip. http://majoritywhip.house.gov/index.cfm?p=HistoryOfWhip. Retrieved April 18, 2010. 
  16. ^ Gould, Lewis L. (2005). The Most Exclusive Club. Basic Books. pp. 57, 59. ISBN 978-0-465-02778-1. 

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