Whip is a role in party-based politics whose primary purpose is to ensure control of the formal decision-making process in a parliamentary legislature. Whips are party 'enforcers', who typically offer both inducements and punishments to party members. In modern times, most whips are concerned primarily with ensuring a desired attendance for an important vote.
Because legislatures typically only require a majority of the quorum in attendance, a majority party can be outvoted if a large number of its legislators are absent and the opposition is in full attendance. An important part of a government whip's job is to ensure that this situation never arises; sufficient majority legislators must keep party attendance close enough to equality that the majority is slim, and the quorum cannot be busted by the departure of the majority legislators, this is difficult and can be exploited by the opposition to harass the majority.
Whip is also used to mean:
In the United Kingdom, there are three categories of whips that are issued on particular bills:
A guide to what the party's policy would indicate, and notification of when the vote is expected to take place; this is non-binding for attendance or voting
An instruction to attend and vote in a particular way, but without sanction; partially binding for voting, attendance required unless prior permission given by the Whip (sometimes known as double line whip).
A strict instruction to attend and vote in a particular way, breach of which could have serious consequences; binding for both attendance and voting. Non-attendance permission can be given by the Whip, but a serious reason is needed. Breach of a three-line whip can lead to expulsion from the parliamentary political group in extreme circumstances, and may lead to expulsion from the party. Consequently, three-line whips are generally only issued on key issues, such as votes of confidence and supply. The nature of three line whips and the potential punishments for revolt varies dramatically among parties and legislatures.
In the Parliament of Australia and in the Parliaments of the six states and two self-governing territories, all the political parties have whips to ensure party discipline and carry out a variety of other functions on behalf of the party leadership. The most important function of the whips office is to ensure that all Members and Senators are present to take part in votes in the Chamber. Unlike in the United Kingdom Parliament, government whips do not hold official office, but they are recognised for parliamentary purposes and enjoy certain privileges in the Chamber. The Speaker addresses them as "Chief Government Whip" and "Chief Opposition Whip". However, Australian whips in practice play a much lesser role than in the United Kingdom, since party discipline in Australia is much tighter and genuine threats to cross the floor are much rarer.
Liberal Party Whips are appointed by the leader of the party, while The Australian Labor Party Whips are elected by the Caucus. Each Chief Whip is assisted by two Deputy Whips. In the Coalition one of the Deputy Whips is always the National Party whip.
Similar arrangements exist in the state and territory Parliaments.
The European Parliament's political groups such as the Socialist or EPP-ED groups have a whip, but the position is not a powerful one. Individual national delegations which are part of the larger party grouping may also have their own whips. For example the UK delegation in the Socialist Group, made up of 19 Labour MEPs has its own whip, the position currently being filled by Glenis Willmott, an East Midlands MEP who was elected to the post in 2006.
In British politics, the Chief Whip of the governing party in the House of Commons is usually appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury so that the incumbent, who represents the whips in general, has a seat and a voice in the Cabinet. By virtue of holding the office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, 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.
In the United States there are legislatures at the local (city councils, town councils, county legislatures, etc.), state and national level. The national legislature (Congress), state legislatures, and many county and city legislative bodies are divided along party lines and have whips, as well as majority and minority leaders.
Both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and Senate, have majority and minority whips. They in turn have subordinate "regional" whips. While members of Congress often vote along party lines, the influence of the whip is weaker than in the UK system. For one thing, much money is raised by individual candidates, and members of Congress are almost never ejected from a party. Also, a Whip in the United States cannot bargain with a congressman by denying promotion to a rank. Whips in the United States are also less menacing in their techniques than in the United Kingdom. That said, stepping too far outside the party's platform can limit political ambitions or ability to obtain favorable legislation.
In the Senate, the Majority Whip is the third or fourth highest-ranking individual in the majority party (the party with the greater number of legislators in a legislative body). The Majority Whip is outranked by the Majority Leader, the President Pro Tempore and, if the majority also holds the executive branch, the President of the Senate. Because the office of President Pro Tempore is largely honorific, usually given to the senior senator of the majority, and the President of the Senate only acts in cases of a tie, the Majority Leader holds considerably more power than his or her House counterpart and so by extension an argument could be made that the Majority Whip is the second ranking individual in terms of actual power. Similarly, in the House the Majority Whip is outranked by both the Majority Leader and the Speaker.
In both the House and the Senate, the Minority Whip is the second highest-ranking individual in the minority party (the party with the lesser number of legislators in a legislative body), outranked only by the Minority Leader.
The House Majority Whip for the 110th Congress is Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, who reports to the House Majority Leader, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California.