Sunday 20 May 2007


On Friday evening we had a Government Whip, Steve McCabe MP, speak to our Fabian Society branch in Rugby. At the moment I'm reading Gyles Brandreth's book 'Breaking the Code: Westminster Diaries'. Mr Brandreth was a government whip in the Major Government.

There are some important difference between whips in the four Houses serving the UK and the US. In fact there are four wholly different environments in which they operate.

Each House has its own set of sanctions and incentives that whips can use to encourage members to vote the desired way. The power of patronage is at its greatest in the House of Commons. Members who seek appointment to ministerial office need the recommendation of the whips. Even permission to be away from the House for a meeting is at the discretion of the whips office. Rebels can have their their chances of appointment to office or participation in the committee stage of a particular bill blocked by the whips - they could even face deselection.

In the Lords members are likely to be less ambitious for office. Many have "been there, done that". They can't be removed from the House - since appointment is for life. Removal of the whip - in effect suspension or expulsion - from the party hurts the party more than the individual.

The Senate gives the greatest power to minorities to block action. A disaffected Senator can cause more trouble for his party, than the whips can cause for him. Whipping in that environment needs different skills.

The House of Representatives has the largest whip organisation. In a Congressional Research Service report in 2002 it was reported that the Democrats had 1 Chief Whip; 6 Chief Deputy Whips; 12 Deputy Whips; 70 'At Large' whips and 24 regional whips. The Republicans had 1 Chief; 1 Chief Deputy; 17 Deputies and 49 'Assistant Whips'. In the House of Commons there are 16 whips and in the Lords only 8.