House of Commons/Chief Whip

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Employment.png House of Commons/Chief Whip 

UK party discipline enforcer, wields great power over the MPs.

In British politics, the Chief Whip of the governing party in the House of Commons is usually also appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, a Cabinet position. The Government Chief Whip has an official residence at 12 Downing Street. However, the Chief Whip's office is currently located at 9 Downing Street.[1]

The Chief Whip can wield great power over their party's MPs, including cabinet ministers, being seen to speak at all times with the voice of the Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher was famed for using her Chief Whip as a "cabinet enforcer".

The role of Chief Whip is regarded as secretive, as the Whip is concerned with the discipline of their own party's Members of Parliament and never appears on television or radio in their capacity as whip. An exception occurred on 1 April 2019 when Julian Smith chose to criticize his own government and Prime Minister.[2]

In the UK Parliament the importance of a vote is indicated by underlining of items on the "whip", which is the name of the letter the Chief Whip sends to all the MPs in their party at the start of the week. This letter informs them of the schedule for the days ahead, and includes the sentence, "Your attendance is absolutely essential" next to each debate in which there will be a vote. This sentence is underlined once, twice or three times depending on the consequences that will be suffered if they do not turn up, hence the origin of the terms one-line whip, two-line whip and three-line whip. The actual vote they are to make is communicated to them in the chamber by hand signals during the division when the time comes (usually after the division bell has been rung). Even though it is more important to the result of any division than the debate, neither these instructions, which are visible to everyone in the chamber, nor the "whip" letter at the start of the week, are recorded in Hansard, as they are considered a matter internal to the political party; indeed, the system exists because any explicit direction to an MP as to how they should vote would be a breach of parliamentary privilege.

The consequences of defying the party whip depend on the circumstances, and are usually negotiated with the party whip in advance. The party whip's job is to ensure the outcome of the vote, so the situation is different and more important for a party which holds the majority, because if their members obey the whip they can always win.

For a minister, the consequences of defying the party whip are absolute: they are dismissed from their job immediately if they have not already resigned, and return to being a backbencher. Sometimes their votes in Parliament are called the "payroll vote", because they can be taken for granted. The consequences for a back-bencher can include the lack of future promotion to a government post, a reduction of party campaigning effort in his or her constituency during the next election, deselection by his or her local party activists, or, in extreme circumstances, "withdrawal of the whip" and expulsion from the party.


Office Holders on Wikispooks

Gavin Williamson14 July 20162 November 2017
Michael Gove15 July 20149 May 2015
Patrick McLoughlin12 May 20104 September 2012