Thursday, 10 March 2011


Bill and I have been dragging around for a couple of days with some sort of headache-y virus.  He's apparently recovered (and is currently doing my head in Hoovering) but I'm still sapped.  Not tired enough to sleep but too woolly-brained to think, it's annoying more than anything.

Anyhow, keeping my promise and making another - this will be the last etymological post for a while - I just thought it amusing to learn that
...'To whip' has such derivative senses as 'to move smartly or nimbly', whence that swift and lively dog the whippet.  Note also whippersnapper, one who snaps at the whip, presumption implying insignificance...
Which led me to wonder about the term as it is used in British politics, though it is an area I don't ever really try to understand.  I'm afraid I lost all respect for the lot of them one day when I was shopping in my local charity shop and they had the radio on.  It was a broadcast of a Parliamentary debate and notwithstanding the polysyllabic words and use of polite titles, the tone of voice used by both sides convinced me they were all wearing sunbonnets and diapers, sitting in a box, spitting out their dummies (called 'pacifiers' in OKC, 'binkies' in SLC) and slinging sand at one another.   The point appeared not to be to conduct business but to denigrate and humiliate the opposing party.  I couldn't bear listening to my (40%) taxes being wasted and I left the shop.  From the little I hear lately it's not much better on the other side of the pond, sadly.  So, where was I?  

Oh yes, whip.  Everyone knows that Brits are rather kinky but I always did wonder what the word meant in the political sense.  According to Wikipedia
A whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are party 'enforcers', who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy. A whip's role is also to ensure that the elected representatives of their party are in attendance when important votes are taken. The usage comes from the hunting term whipping in, i.e. preventing hounds from wandering away from the pack.
I remembering also hearing the term 'three-line-whip' early on at work.  I gathered from the context that it meant we had to show up somewhere, but now I can share that:

In the United Kingdom, there are three categories of whip that are issued on particular business. An express instruction how to vote could constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege, so the party's wishes are expressed unequivocally but indirectly. These whips are issued to MPs in the form of a letter outlining the Parliamentary schedule, with a sentence such as "Your attendance is absolutely essential" next to each debate in which there will be a vote, underlined one, two or three times according to the severity of the whip:
  • A single-line whip is 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.
  • A two-line whip, sometimes known as a double-line whip, is an instruction to attend and vote; partially binding for voting, attendance required unless prior permission given by the whip.
  • A three-line whip is a strict instruction to attend and vote, breach of which would normally have serious consequences. Permission not to attend may 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 vary dramatically among parties and legislatures.
 I've yet to figure out how to get more than a 'double underline' out of Microsoft Word, but I'm not likely to be expelling anyone, anyway.


James said...

Hope you feel 100% soon. A wonderful post.

Rick Stone said...

The U.S. House of Representatives has a person in each party who is referred as the "Party Whip". His job is to attempt to keep the party faithful in line and voting the way the party leaders in the house desire. As in "whip them in line".