Politics is a confusing place for many people, not least with all of its terminology to understand. You are forgiven for not having a clue sometimes as even the most experienced political nerds have a hard time getting to grips with the topic.

The role of a ‘whip’ in politics is certainly not the most well known of all the roles in Westminster. But, it is arguably one of the most important and most interesting. The name ‘whip’ itself comes from vocabulary associated with hunting in the 1600s. It’s taken from the phrase “whipper-in”, used to describe the role in which one would prevent the hounds wandering away from the pack on a hunt.

And, in its simplest form, that’s exactly what a whip does.

Each political party has a Chief Whip, who is in charge of making the Members of Parliament (MPs) vote in line with the leader. It’s important for MPs to vote with their Party leader because it means they are either passing new laws, or preventing them from being passed. It’s also important on another level as it shows a sign of unity between a party. And, generally, voters like to see party unity as it assures their worries and shows strength. So, the whip’s job is to make sure that MPs make the voters happy.

Types of whip

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— Single-line whip

In the House of Commons, new laws are put forward for MPs to vote on. A single-line whip means that MPs are given a guide to the ‘Party line’, meaning what the Party policy is and consequently the suggested way to vote. No one is made to vote, or vote in one particular way when there is a single-line whip.

— Two-line whip, or a double-line whip

This is enforced by Parties when there is an important vote going on. MPs have to vote, unless given permission not to by the whip before the vote goes ahead. It is expected of MPs to vote in line with Party policy, and frowned upon if not. However, MPs are not harshly punished if they break a two-line whip.

— Three-line whip

A three-line whip is enforced on the most serious of votes in Parliament. All MPs are required to attend and only in very special cases are absences excused. MPs are instructed how to vote and if they break with this instruction, they are harshly punished and unlikely to do very well under the leader they have disobeyed.

How does the whip make MPs vote a certain way?

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Seeing as the whip’s job is to make MPs vote one way or another, they have a bit of convincing to do in some cases. It is rumored that, in Westminster, whips have ‘dirt’ on MPs and their private lives which they threaten to leak to the press. This would destroy an MPs hopes of rising to the top of politics and, in extreme cases, may severely impact their private lives.

These are rumors, though, and it is most often the case of the carrot and the stick. In other words: vote our way and you’ll be rewarded for your loyalty.