The whips in parliament are MPs and lords appointed by the party leaders to organise parliamentary business and to ensure that MPs and lords vote according to the leaderships’ wishes.by Julian Baggini, James Graham / September 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
Should party whips be abolished?
Julian Baggini is a philosopher and co-founder of “The Philosophers’ Magazine.” Hs book, “The Edge of Reason: A Rational Sceptic in an Irrational World” has just been published
Parliamentary democracy in our country is suffering a crisis of legitimacy. Support for mainstream parties is at an all-time low and the opposition has a leader whom 80 per cent of its MPs don’t support. There are many reasons for this and there is no magic bullet to cure it. The whips system is part of the problem and must be abolished.
Whipping demands of our elected politicians that their first duty is to obey their party, not to serve their constituents. As such, it is a potent symbol of what many perceive to be wrong with our politics: that it is played by the internal rules of the Westminster elite without enough regard to the people they are supposed to represent.
Whipping belongs to the time when class identities were stronger and two parties took the vast majority of the votes. Then, there was perhaps some justification for organising parliament in two highly disciplined teams. This bipolar partisanship is now out of date. Debates do not always divide neatly across left and right. In this more complex political world, the idea of loyalty to party, right or wrong, has had its day. The electorate is tired of party-line-toeing loyalists, preferring independently minded politicians with strong values. That’s why the most popular politicians of recent years have all been mavericks: Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn.
To adapt to these changes, somehow Westminster has to become less party managed and more accommodating of diversity of opinion. Of course there is strength in unity, but when it is achieved by coerced conformity it looks more like weakness. The sound of the continued cracking of the whip is the cry of a failing party system trying desperately to reassert its authority. It isn’t working and it’s time to try something else.
James Graham is the author of “This House,” a play about whips in the 1970s, which premiered at the National Theatre in 2012. A new production opens at the Garrick Theatre, London, 19th November