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The whip is a role in party politics whose primary purpose is to ensure control of the formal decision-making process in a parliamentary legislature. Whips are party 'enforcers', who typically offer both inducements and punishments to party members. In modern times, most whips are concerned primarily with ensuring a desired attendance for an important vote. The usage comes from the hunting term whipping in, i.e. preventing hounds from wandering away from the pack.

Because legislatures typically only require a majority of the quorum in attendance, a majority party can be outvoted if a large number of its legislators are absent and the opposition is in full attendance. An important part of a government whip's job is to ensure that this situation never arises; sufficient majority legislators must keep party attendance close enough to equality that the majority is slim, and the quorum cannot be busted by the departure of the minority legislators.

The term "whip" is also used to mean:

  • the voting instructions issued to members by the whip, or
  • in the UKmarker, 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 seat.)



In the Parliament of Australia and in the Parliaments of the six states and two self-governing territories, all the 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 whips office is to ensure that all Members and Senators are present to take part in votes in the Chamber. Unlike in the United Kingdom Parliament, government whips do not hold official office, but they are recognised for parliamentary purposes and enjoy certain privileges in the Chamber. The Speaker addresses them as "Chief Government Whip" and "Chief Opposition Whip". However, Australian whips in practice play a much lesser role than in the United Kingdommarker, since party discipline in Australia is much tighter and genuine threats to cross the floor are much rarer.

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. In the Coalition one of the Deputy Whips is always the National Party whip.

Similar arrangements exist in the state and territory Parliaments.




In Greecemarker, party discipline has been very strict in most parties. However, this didn't prevent a few governments from collapse. The role of the whip is usually exercised by the party leader but Kostas Karamanlis, the current Prime Minister and ruling party leader, mostly uses 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 Arcadiamarker Prefecture, stated that Karamanlis was politically guilty for some political scandals, Karamanlis immediately expelled him from both the parliamentary group and the party, treating New Democracy majority to a razor-sharp one.

European Union

The European Parliament's political groups such as the Socialist or EPP-ED groups have a whip, but the position is not a powerful one. Individual national delegations which are part of the larger party grouping may also have their own whips. For example the UK delegation in the Socialist Group, made up of 19 Labour MEPs has its own whip, the position currently being filled by Glenis Willmott, an East Midlands MEP who was elected to the post in 2006.


In India, the concept of the whip was inherited from colonial British rule.


New Zealand

In New Zealand, the concept of the whip was inherited from colonial British rule. All political parties have party whips or musterer in the Green Party.

United Kingdom

In British politics, the Chief Whip of the governing party in the House of Commonsmarker is usually 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 Streetmarker. However, the Chief Whip's office is currently located at 9 Downing Street. Whips report to the Prime Minister to let him know of any possible back bench revolts and the general opinion of MPs within the party. It is important, if wanting to progress within a career in politics, to get on the good side of the chief whip.

In the United Kingdom, there are three categories of whips that are issued on particular bills:

  • 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 double line whip, is an instruction to attend and vote in a particular way, but without sanction; 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 in a particular way, breach of which could have serious consequences; binding for both attendance and voting. Non-attendance permission can 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 varies dramatically among parties and legislatures. (The phrase a 'three lined whip' has been adopted into the workplace with employers often putting a 'three lined whip' on meetings. )

United States

In the United States there are legislatures at the local (city councils, town councils, county legislatures, 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.

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 the member's seniority—that is, in most cases, on the committees on which a member serves.

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 or fourth highest-ranking individual in the majority party (the party with the greater number of legislators in a legislative body). The Majority Whip is outranked by the Majority Leader, the President Pro Tempore and, if the majority also holds the executive branch, the President of the Senate (the Vice President). Because the office of President Pro Tempore is largely honorific, usually given to the senior senator of the majority, and the President of the Senate only acts in cases of a tie, the Majority Leader holds considerably more power than his or her House counterpart and so by extension the Majority Whip is the second ranking individual in terms of actual power. Similarly, in the House the Majority Whip is outranked by both the Majority Leader and the Speaker.

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.

111th Congress

The Senate Majority Whip for the 111th Congress is Senator Richard Durbin of Illinoismarker, who reports to the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevadamarker.

The Senate Minority Whip for the 111th Congress is Senator Jon Kyl of Arizonamarker, who reports to the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentuckymarker.

The House Majority Whip for the 111th Congress is Representative James Clyburn of South Carolinamarker, who reports to the House Majority Leader, Representative Steny Hoyer of Marylandmarker, and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of Californiamarker.

The House Minority Whip for the 111th Congress is Representative Eric Cantor of Virginiamarker, who reports to the House Minority Leader, Representative John Boehner of Ohiomarker.

Notes and references

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