The impact of the whips

Lord Norton

I organise a biennial international workshop of parliamentary scholars and parliamentarians.  The latest – the tenth – was held at the weekend at Wroxton College in Oxfordshire.  The panels covered a range of topics, including legislative adaptability, the relationship between parliaments and citizens, parliamentary scrutiny, and citizens’ expectations. 

A couple of the panels focused on the UK Parliament.  In one, we got on to discussing the role of the whips and their impact in the House of Commons, and how the relationship between members and whips had changed.  Has the realtionship changed gradually over time or have we seen a sudden change in relationship in the present Parliament?  My argument was that it was both.

Over time, there has been a change in the relationship, members being less willing to defer to the whips, relying instead on their own sources of information and on their position within the constituency.  Nonetheless, for members who were office-seeking, keen to be re-elected, and wanting to have some meaningful role (such as committee service) while on the back-benches, there was some incentive not to be too deaf to the blandishments of the whips.

In the present Parliament, there has been a paradigmatic change as a result of several unrelated developments.  Previously, new members were socialised through contact with their elders.  In this Parliament, the sheer number of new Conservative MPs has resulted in contact being essentially horizontal (learning from one another) rather than vertical (learning from senior members).  This has been complemented by the fact that the Conservative Party is in office but not in power (the leadership not being credited with delivering victory) and with the whips losing some of their supposed carrots and sticks.   Membership of select committees is now determined by the House and parliamentary parties, and not by the whips; there are limited prospects of promotion (and members know that, so can afford to take a much longer-term view) and there is little constituency leverage.  Members are fairly well embedded in their constituencies. 

There is also the nature of the intake: the late John Maples did an effective job in recruiting good candidates.  The new intake is, in my view, notable for some extremely able individuals – bright and organised.  Loyalists may end up as parliamentary under-secretaries in a few weeks, but the Cabinet ministers of the future are to be found among the able back-bench dissenters.

All this makes for an active House and one willing to heard.  The job of the whips may be harder – but that is good news for the House of Commons.

11 comments for “The impact of the whips

  1. Lord Blagger
    31/07/2012 at 1:53 pm

    Nonetheless, for members who were office-seeking, keen to be re-elected, and wanting to have some meaningful role


    Ah, the ones open to bribery. If we did the same, we would be jailed. If MPs do it, its legal. One rule for them, one rule for the rest of us.

    Members are fairly well embedded in their constituencies.

    ie. Selection of MPs by a handful of people in the constituency, who are then foisted on the electorate. They then have to decide which they value, voting for the preordained, or voting against their interests. Those MPs once elected, dictate without regard to the electorate because they are ‘safe’.

    Notice too that in your article, there is no mention of any role for the electorate. We just get told what to do

    • MilesJSD
      01/08/2012 at 4:01 am

      Lord Blagger has correctly pictured the corruption going on, on high

      and has expressed our peoples’ feelings under such neglects, malfeasances and repressions.
      where do the Whips fit into Lord Norton’s opening major summary of the “topics covered” ?
      Not under “Citizens’ expectations” surely ?
      nor under “Relationship between parliaments and citizens”;
      nor under “parliamentary scrutiny”;

      could it possibly ‘fit’
      under “legislative adaptability” ?

  2. Gareth Howell
    31/07/2012 at 8:19 pm

    Members are fairly well embedded in their constituencies.

    And surprising the strength of feeling that de-embedded them in 1997 following the anti-sleaze campaign. Memories are not so very short in that it took the Tory CofE constituencies 13 years to get back to their former domineering power;
    dear Lord Knight with the biggest swing in the country of about 18,000 from Labour to to a Tory!

    It would take similar sleaze to change it again in this area, diehard churchgoers all,
    the tory party at prayer!

    Selection of MPs by a handful of people in the constituency, who are then foisted on the electorate. Electoral colleges must surely be a useful method of
    “selection” however contrived it may be.

    The Labour party usually sends Union Convenors to its far flung ‘electoral colleges’/constituencies for selection, an accepted method of winning membership.

  3. MilesJSD
    01/08/2012 at 3:47 am

    “…covered a range of topics including:
    (1) legislative adaptability;
    (2) the relationship between parliaments and citizens;
    (3) parliamentary scrutiny;
    (4) citizens’ expectations …”

    Lord Norton’s “argument” was that “the relationship between Members and Whips has been changing both gradually and suddenly”

    but what were, and now are, are the Perceptions of other participants ?
    (An ‘argument’ being verbal is more removed from the Reality than are the perceptions thereof,
    and more likely to be falsified than are those individual Perceptions).
    Lord Norton
    (praising John Maples’s effective job in selecting ‘good candidates’ [which is questionable])
    promotes the large intake of new members as being “notable for some extremely able individuals – bright and organised”:

    there were over 300 of them, reported within hours of being elected, as aggressively and even angrily announcing, to Media, Public and Parliaments
    “hands off our self-determined parliamentary-expenses”;

    No, Lord Norton, we need faithful advocates and representatives for our (People’s) needs and affordable-hows

    NOT “bright, organised self-promoting ‘individuals'”
    [the Mafia is bright and organised,
    so are the Bankers,
    and so are your own ‘vertically-uppermost’ safe-seaters’].
    your “active House” is now more so one to “hear” (the whips),

    (and/or to be ‘heard’,
    by – – –
    the People ?
    the Whips ?
    the Media ?
    the Queen ?
    the Commons ?
    the Public ? )

  4. Gareth Howell
    01/08/2012 at 12:15 pm

    Members are fairly well embedded in their constituencies.

    I wonder with whom?!! Ha! Ha!Ha!

  5. maude elwes
    01/08/2012 at 12:51 pm

    What I have read and heard this morning, Lord Norton, is, a wind of change is sweeping through Parliament and the entire set up is going to be washed out, as the Whitehall minions are no longer to be permitted to hold back change. Which clearly they have been able to do for an eternity.

    Of course this story is more than a little vague to say the least. However, if you are planning to follow the US system more closely, then take a good look at the corruption and the lack of any ‘real change’ in the administration of that country. They have shown little advantage over politically correct subjugation than we have here.

    Come to that, not Australia or New Zealand either. Now I wonder why that is?

    Then, as we move on to anoher page we see that secrecy to cover up the Iraq scandal is once again in play. We are not to know what really went on with Blair and his team for another thrity years. My goodnes, not until after they are likely to be dead. Deliberately providing them with a surety they will have no chance of charges being brought against them for war crimes.

    Couldn’t be because the Blair is back in the halls of power directing his way to another pile of silver could it?

    After, David Kelly, this is a terrible blow for freedom of information. How can this be? And why would those in the Commons want to let this happen?

    • Lord Blagger
      01/08/2012 at 2:53 pm

      However, if you are planning to follow the US system more closely, then take a good look at the corruption and the lack of any ‘real change’ in the administration of that country
      Same as the UK.

      Conclusion, its representative democracy, with no control allowed by the electorate that’s the real problem.

      We need direct democracy.

      • maude elwes
        02/08/2012 at 12:29 pm


        Direct Democracy has always been a favourite with me. In the duplicitous world of today it appears to be the only way the people, us, will have any say at all. It will be harder to ignore the way we want to be governed if we have the same ideal right to challenge that the Swiss have.

        However, I see the FT in my link above, it no longer shows the article I connected it to. The one regarding F. Maude’s move to change Whitehall. So, another version is here.

        Then this morning we hear, once again, more personal data on all our medical records is to be given ‘freely,’ without identification, LOL, in order to assist scientist and pharamceutical companies to create methods of curing our most horrific disease.

        First of all it is unlikely it will be protected. Just the way the DVLA sells off our information, there is money in data.

        And here is another anomaly, if you look at the list of associations of those at the top ingovernment running the business of privatising our NHS, what do we see? Well ‘some’ have connections to ‘pharmaceutical companies.’ What a coincidence. Now I wonder why that is?

    • Gareth Howell
      02/08/2012 at 9:19 am

      Iraq scandal is once again in play. We are not to know what really went on with Blair and his team for another thrity years.

      If Maude attended parliament even once, she would have a clearer idea of how the whipping system used to work, and in the example of the Iraq war, precisely what it was that Blair achieved.

      The question now is how that system has changed, an interesting one. Sitting in the front row, in front of the tory member for Bude and Sir Alan Beith (Lib Dem),at a recent (December) Hansard meeting, I did get to wondering how the whips were managing both parties in government, sitting side by side!

      They seemed very jolly, and united in their opinions, but that may leave the Lib dems, failing Cable’s (Hon member for the DTI) exemplary leadership, between a very hard rock and a very hard place at the next general election.

      The leadership of one man, as we saw with Blair, can provide magnificent victories in the country as a whole, so Cable’s contribution may still be highly significant,
      in regaining the Lib dem vote, in the years ahead.

      Membership of select committees is now determined by the House and parliamentary parties, and not by the whips;
      I wonder whether that means no change at all in fact?! That is done publically in the chamber rather than behind the closed doors of the whips offices???

      Say for example there is a marginal seat labour member who has a large army base in his consituency, who all vote conservative?
      Defence committee; then next time round he gets a less marginal vote!

      But what happens when there are the conflicts
      and extra dimensions of Lib dem/Tory policies and ideals to work with?

      Or are all the Lib dems Church of England church goers too?!!!
      Or are they all united against the supposed incursion of Islam into these islands?

      Remember the Lib dems were the ONLY responsible group at the time of the Iraq war declaration that Maude seems to be hinting at, other than Respect party Jack.

      • maude elwes
        03/08/2012 at 2:20 pm

        @Gareth Howell:

        This may interest you. It touches the reality of global policy and how our freedoms has been traded for compliance. Which is a threat to us all in no uncertain terms.

        Politicians are as idiots as, Baroness Deech, implied in her thread on need for education prior to being able to take up office, or, give your views to the political classes. Their education, as I wrote there,is simply indoctrination. Common sense, they simply don’t posses.

        Title: Freedom for Sale. But the book it is written in is under, Blair’s Wars and Freedom for Sale by J. Kampfner.

        Parliament is a place you go when you want to be led up the garden path.

        The building is beautiful, full of a sense of history and filled with a wonderful ambience, but, those who spend their life there, do so with intention of keeping their moves secret from the public they ask to back them. The Houses of Hypocracy would be a more fitting name.

        An MP’s job is to represent the public. Not to fill his coffers for selling them out.

  6. Nazma FOURRE
    01/08/2012 at 10:52 pm

    Dear Lord Norton,
    Leadership is important in our everyday life as life itself , is a never ending learning travel jet set where experience speaks for itself.

    By this philosophical theory of mine I wish to point out that leadership which is given from whips is important to the commoners as their knowledge have been acquired from their political experience.

    Without whips in the House of commons, their members would be orphans of their guide lines and some of them might forget their political colours and the hight lights of the Manifesto, their program on which they have been elected.
    Whips remain the “class captains” of the 699 members of parliament in the House of Commons assuring leadership, and the respect of their Manifesto .

    They are the light in the middle of the thundering night for the commoners in the wheeling pool of their contribution in the decision making of the destiny of the United Kingdom.

    They remain politicians, elected by the population in the 699 consitutuencies and they are aware that their reelection would depend on the satisfaction of their population found in their constituencies.In order to reach their goals targetted through their electoral programs, the commoners need whips.

    God bless the United Kingdom. God save the Queen and the Lords.
    Nazma FOURRE

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