Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Talking like an insider

While reading an article this morning, I came across a bit of obscure trivia that reminded me of the detail expected of students of AP U.S. Government and Politics.

I came to know this trivia because I taught the Comparative course for 20 years and learned lots of trivia that never was relevant for AP exams. Maybe it's a good footnote to Parliamentary procedure.

In an article about a motion in the UK Parliament to investigate former PM Tony Blair for lying to Parliament (in order to get approval to join the US-led coalition to invade Iraq) reporter Jessica Elgot mentions, "There is only a one-line whip on attendance by Labour MPs but those who turn up are expected to vote against the motion. At a private meeting of Labour MPs on Monday night, backbenchers voted almost unanimously to urge the shadow cabinet to mandate a three-line whip against the motion, which was overruled by the leadership… "

One line whip? How about a two line whip? or a three line whip?

The term the whip was derived from hunting terminology. The whipper-in is defined 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.'

"A Member of Parliament, who is a member of a political party, will usually receive the weekly circular or 'whip' each week traditionally by post and these days by email. It is an A4 size of paper listing under each day the business of the House with one, two or three lines drawn underneath.

"One line means that that the business is not deemed very important or that the Opposition are not opposing it so it can pass through the House unimpeded and the member is not required to attend.

"Two lines means that the a vote might be expected but the Government is unlikely to lose that vote. Loyalist MP's will most likely still attend to ingratiate themselves with the party leadership (front benchers).

"Three lines is a specific instruction to attend and vote with the Government 'line' or policy.

"Not to vote on a three line whip is a potentially disciplinary matter… "

Source: Politics of the United Kingdom: What is a "three-line whip"?


There are whips in the U.S. Congress as well. They are usually assistants to the party leaders whose job is to inform party members of the party position and get them to attend and vote appropriately.

See also Whips, from the Parliament's web site.

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