1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Whip

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WHIP, in general, an instrument for striking, usually consisting of a handle of a flexible nature with a lash attached (see Whipping, below). In English parliamentary usage, a “whip” is a member (or members) chosen by the leader or leaders of a political party for the special duty of securing the attendance of the other members of that party on all necessary occasions, the term being abbreviated from the whipper-in of a hunt. The name is also given to the summons urging members of the party to attend. Whips are, of course, always members of parliament, and for the party in power (i.e. the government) their services are very essential, seeing that the fate of an important measure, or even the existence of the government itself, may depend upon the result of a division in the House. Where the majority of the party in power is not large it is very necessary that there should always be at hand a sufficient number of its supporters to make up a majority, and without the assistance of the whips it would be impossible to secure this. The chief whip of the government holds the office of patronage secretary to the treasury, so called because when offices were freely distributed to secure the support of members, it was his chief duty to dispose of the patronage to the best advantage of his party. He is still the channel through which such patronage as is left to the prime minister is dispensed. He is assisted by three junior whips, who are officially appointed as junior lords of the treasury; their salaries are £1000 a year each, while the patronage secretary has a salary of £2000. The parties not in office have whips who are unpaid. Attendance of members is primarily secured by lithographed notices sent by the whips to their following, the urgency or importance of the notice being indicated by the number of lines underscoring the notice, a four-line whip usually signifying the extremest urgency. The whips also arrange for the “pairing” of such of the members of their party who desire to be absent with those members of the opposition party who also desire to be absent. The chief whips of either party arrange in consultation with each other the leading speakers in an important debate, and also its length, and give the list of speakers to the speaker or chairman, who usually falls in with the arrangement. They take no part in debate themselves, but are constantly present in the House during its sittings, keeping a finger, as it were, upon the pulse of the House, and constantly informing their leader as to the state of the House. When any division is regarded as a strictly party one, the whips act as tellers in the division.

An interesting account of the office of whip is given in A. L. Lowell's Government of England (1908), vol. i. c. xxv.