Whip (politics)


A whip is an official of a whose task is to ensure in a . This means ensuring that members of the party vote according to the , rather than according to or the will of their donors or constituents. Whips are the party's "enforcers". They try to ensure that their fellow political party legislators attend voting sessions and vote according to their party's official policy. Members who vote against party policy may "lose the whip", being effectively expelled from the party. The term is taken from the "" during a hunt, who tries to prevent hounds from wandering away from a hunting pack. Additionally, the term "whip" may mean the voting instructions issued to legislators, or the status of a certain legislator in their party's parliamentary grouping.


The expression ''whip'' in its parliamentary context, derived from its origins in hunting terminology. The ' defines the term ''whipper-in'' as, "a huntsman's assistant who keeps the hounds from straying by driving them back with the whip into the main body of the pack". According to that dictionary, the first recorded use of the term ''whipper-in'' in the parliamentary sense occurs in 1772. However, P.D.G. Thomas in ''House of Commons in the Eighteenth Century'' cites two examples of the use of the term that pre-date 1772.House of Commons briefing note: The Whip's Office Doc ref. SN/PC/02829. Last updated 10 October 2008

In countries using the Westminster system


In the , as well as in the parliaments of the six states and two self-governing territories, major 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 and preventing s). Unlike in the , 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 in Australia tends to be tighter. Their roles in the chamber include taking divisions, and maintaining a "" 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. whips are appointed by the leader of the party, while whips are elected by the . For Labor and the Liberals, the chief whip is assisted by two deputy whips.


In the Party Whip is the member of a political party in the , the or a provincial legislature charged with ensuring party discipline among members of the . In the House of Commons, the whip's office prepares and distributes vote sheets identifying the party position on each bill or motion. The whip is also responsible for assigning offices and scheduling s from his or her party for various bills, motions and other proceedings in the House.


In , the concept of the whip was inherited from . Every major political party appoints a whip who is responsible for the party's discipline and behaviours on the floor of the . Usually, they direct 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. However, there are some cases such as where whips cannot direct a (MP) or (MLA) on whom to vote. Should a whip's order be violated by a member of the same party, then the whip can recommend immediate dismissal of that member from the house due to indiscipline and the Speaker of the respective house can decide on the matter (without time limit). Should the whip choose not follow up on the violation his/her official whip order by own party member due to any reason, then any member of house can do so to the Speaker.


Whips exist for all parliamentary parties in and . The chief whip is normally a , and attends s. The whips of each house meet weekly to set the agenda for the next week's business. The in the Dáil and the analogous Independent groups in the Seanad nominate whips to attend these meetings even though there is no party line for their whips to enforce. Whips also coordinate . The timing of most votes are difficult to predict and TDs are expected to stay within earshot of the division bell at all times. All TDs are expected to vote with their party and to receive permission if they intend to be absent for a vote. are not a common feature of the Irish parliamentary tradition but they do happen on occasion, and there are calls for them to happen more often. For instance, usually allowed a free vote on abortion bills, as in the Protection of Human Life In Pregnancy Act. From 1998, whips and assistant whips may be entitled to an allowance on top of their base legislator's salary. In 2011, these allowances varied proportional to the size of the group, with 's Dáil whip's allowance the highest at €19,000.


Party whips in Malaysia serve a similar role as in other -based parliamentary democracies. However, party discipline tends to be tighter in Malaysia and therefore the role of the whip is generally less important, though its importance is heightened when the government majority is less in the lower house.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the concept of the whip was inherited from British rule. All political parties that have four or more members in Parliament have at least one party whip, although whips are called ''musterers''. Parties with 25 to 44 members are allowed two whips (one senior and one junior), and parties with 45 or more members are entitled to three whips (one senior and two junior). Whips act in an administrative role, making sure members of their party are in the debating chamber when required and organising members of their party to speak during debates. Since the introduction of in 1996, divisions that require all members in the chamber to vote by taking sides (termed a ''personal vote'') are rarely used, except for s. Instead, one of the party's whips votes on behalf of all the members of their party, by declaring how many members are in favour and/or how many members are opposed. They also cast proxy votes for single-member parties whose member is not in the chamber at the time of the vote, and also cast proxy votes during personal votes for absent members of their parties and for absent members of associated single-member parties.

United Kingdom

In British politics, the of the governing party in the is customarily appointed as so that the incumbent, who represents the whips in general, has a seat and a voice in the . By virtue of holding the office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, the government chief whip has an official residence at , although the chief whip's office is currently located at 9 Downing Street. Government whips report to the prime minister on any possible backbench revolts and the general opinion of MPs within the party, and upon the exercise of the , which is used to motivate and reward loyalty. In the sense of 'voting instructions', there are three categories of whip in British politics that are issued on particular business. An expressed instruction on how to vote could constitute a breach of , so the party's wishes are indicated 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 according to the party's position, attendance required unless prior permission given by the whip. *A ''three-line whip'' is a strict instruction to attend and vote according to the party's position, breach of which would normally have serious consequences. Permission to not 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 even to expulsion from the party. Consequently, three-line whips are generally only issued on key issues, such as and . The nature of three-line whips and the potential punishments for revolt vary among parties and legislatures.

In other countries


In both houses of the , the Spanish legislature, political parties appoint a member to the role of ' (deputy ), which is the third authority of the after the leader and the spokesperson. The deputy spokesperson enforces in every vote, being thus the equivalent of a party whip in English-speaking countries.

South Africa

Although South Africa uses a system, the concept of a political party whip, which was inherited from , has been maintained. In 2017, secretary general said "Voting according to conscience doesn't work in a political party system. We all get into the list of things and go to Parliament as parliamentarians of the ANC [...] There will be no voting against the ANC."


Party whips exist in most of the major parties of the . For example, in the the party whip is the Caucus leader. In the the party whip is the executive director of the Policy Committee or the caucus leader. When voting for critical bills, whips may issue a top-mobilization order asking members to attend the assembly. Party members failing to obey the order will be suspended or expelled from the party.

United States

In the United States there are legislatures at the local (city councils, town councils, county boards, etc.), state, and federal levels. The federal legislature (), the legislatures in all states except for , and many county and city legislative bodies are divided along party lines and have whips, as well as majority and minority leaders. The whip is also the assistant majority or assistant minority leader. Both houses of Congress, the and , 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. American politicians generally have considerably more freedom to diverge from the and vote according to their own or their constituency's conscience. One reason is that a is raised by individual candidates. Furthermore, neither members of Congress, nor any other person, can be expelled from a political party, which are formed simply by open registration. In addition, because of candidates for office is generally done through a that is open to a wide number of voters, candidates who support their constituents' political positions, rather than those of their party leaders, cannot easily be rejected by their party due to a . Because members of Congress cannot serve simultaneously in positions, a whip in the United States cannot bargain for votes by using potential promotion or demotion in a sitting administration as an inducement. There is, however, in both houses of Congress, and a whip may be able to offer promotion or threaten demotion within that system instead. In the House of Representatives, the influence of a single member individually is relatively small and therefore depends a great deal on (i.e., in most cases, on the length of time they have held office). In the Senate, the majority whip is the third-highest ranking individual in the majority party (the party with the most seats). The majority whip is outranked by the majority leader and, unofficially, the . As the office of president pro tempore is largely honorific and usually given to the longest-serving senator of the majority, the majority whip is in reality the second-ranking senator in the majority conference. Similarly, in the House, the majority whip is outranked by both the and the . 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 . The whip position was created in the House of Representatives in 1897 by Republican Speaker , who appointed as the first whip. The first Democratic whip, , was appointed around 1900. In the Senate, the position was created in 1913 by , chair of the Democratic caucus, when he appointed as the first whip, while Republicans later chose as the party's first in 1915.

In popular culture

British author and politician wrote a , centered around a fictional party whip named , which was dramatised and broadcast by the between 1990 and 1995. The first book in the trilogy, titled ''House of Cards'', was adapted into a and the title has also been used for subsequent series based on other countries' political systems. In ''House of Cards'', Francis Urquhart is the for the and the trilogy charts his ambitious rise through his party's ranks until he becomes . In the American remake of ', is the for the . The series charts Underwood's ambitious rise through his party's ranks until he becomes . The name ''Frank Underwood'' was chosen to have the same initials as the original trilogy's protagonist Francis Urquhart, and to reference , the first ever party whip for the US Democratic Party.


External links

* {{Cite EB1911, wstitle=Whip, volume= 28, page=590 Legal professions