Any explicit direction to an MP as to how they should vote would technically be a Breach of Parliamentary Privilege. (Quote from Wikipedia). A 3 line whip is a very strong communication to MPs that they must be present at a vote in Parliament but ordering how they vote is illegal.
Whips therefor communicate their desires to the MPs in the Chamber by hand signals which are not recorded in the official record (Hansard), as they are non-vocal. They are therefore deemed not to have occurred and the pretence of legality is maintained.
However it is well known by everybody inside Parliament and outside what is intended to be communicated and in which way the MPs of a particular party are expected to vote, sometimes with dire consequences to their Political aspirations if they ignore the instruction.
If democracy was real instead of an idyllic principle all MP’s would ensure all votes were cast in the interests of their constituents as they are the representative of those people and not of their party.
True democracy would not involve any party politics.
The whips department is made up of MP’s that have been appointed by the party leader in parliament. They maintain party unity on key legislative divisions (votes). These whips receive a ministerial salary and both the government and opposition employ them from their respective parties.
Without a whip, party policies would be extremely hard to push through. For governments, pursuing their programme in parliament requires a majority and this would be very difficult to achieve with only a 12 majority in the Commons, without party unity. In a recent vote on Welfare reform, two Conservative MP’s dissented, cutting their majority to 10.
Now with every issue up for debate, not all members ‘toe the line’, in other words not all members obey their leader’s position. In order to maintain unity a mixture of incentives and punishments, carrots and sticks are used.
There are various methods in ensuring an MP into votes for a certain issue in a certain way in parliament; following party line can result in ‘carrots’ (Rewards or better described as Bribes) failure to follow party line results in ‘Sticks’ (Punishment)
Every week the whips department issues a list that goes out informing MPs and Lords of any upcoming parliamentary votes. This list is known as ‘The Whip’.
The most important votes are underlined. The more significant a debate the more it is underlined. The most important of which are denoted by a ‘three line whip’. ‘Three line whips’ are usually crucial events, and if an individual within the party refuses to obey the ‘Three line whip’ they can be suspended from the party and this is known as removing the whip.
A recent example of MPs defying the whip is when three mayoral candidates: Sadiq Khan, Dianne Abbott and David Lammy all opposed the welfare bill (20th July 2015) despite Labours decision to accept government plans. However, their disobedience did not lead to major repercussions as the party was split on the issue and the acting leader Harriet Harman lacked authority.
George Galloway, however, had the whip taken away after voting against his party and publicly denouncing the then leadership under Blair.
Many believe the whip system is antiquated and discredited. It makes party members mere delegates for their party. Some MP’s have made a name being ‘mavericks’, tolerated by their parties. Jeremy Corbyn, for example, rebelled against his party on over 500 divisions! The problem for his leadership is how he can now demand party unity when he chose never to obey Labour leaders since 1983.
So the Whip system has been preventing MP’s and Lords from truly representing their constituents for generations. And the Whips and PM’s have used the system like some kind of Sicilian Gangster offering reward for compliance and threats for rebellion.
Had the Whip system not been in place on the recent vote to trigger Article 50 or not, then with both Labour and Conservative remain MP’s voting for their respective remain constituents, the result would have been very different.
It is time to reform some of these outdated ways of working, which legally break the law whilst the rest of us would be locked up for similar corruption in the real world. In brief the Whip system is an affront to Democracy and it must be changed.
Author Dr Nicholas P George*
*Dr George is a National and Local member and Patron of the Conservative Party as well as a Party Donor through his Companies. He is also a member of the Conservative Group for Europe, National Member of the European Movement and the European Movements local Campaign Manager for Lincolnshire.
All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Conservative Group for Europe or the European Movement.