Citizenship GCSE: What is a Government Whip?

The whips are a group of MPs who are in charge of party discipline. It is their job to make sure MPs on their side all vote with the party line.

They are notoriously secretive about the way they work and have a reputation for using torture and blackmail against MPs. But here, whips from all three major parties tell us about their role and how it is changing.

Labour Chief Whip Rosie Winterton tells us how they try to convince MPs of the merits of the argument.

We learn through Conservative Whip Desmond Swayne that they are in charge of what office an MP gets, which can be used to persuade them.

Under the coalition Government, MPs voted against their party in record numbers.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, tells us how difficult it is as a whip in a coalition, where there is a natural split between the two governing parties.

As their job becomes more difficult, is the power of the whips in decline?

This short film is from the BBC series, Exploring the House of Commons. This series goes behind the scenes of the House of Commons to explain some of the processes that drive British politics.

NB This series was filmed in 2013 - 2015 and some of the political figures shown no longer hold their positions.

Teacher Notes

GCSE or Scottish National 5:

This short film could be used to stimulate a discussion on the positive and negative impact of the whips.

Your pupils could debate whether the loosening of the whips control is a positive development for the House of Commons.

A level or Scottish Higher:

Pupils could make a list of the ways whips try and control MPs, and a list of the reasons why the job of the whips is getting more difficult.

Pupils could consider why the House of Commons needs whips and consider the positive and negative impacts they have.

Pupils could also consider how far coalition government has affected the way Parliament works.

Curriculum Notes

This short film will be relevant for teaching classes about British Politics. It will be suitable for GCSE or A Level, and Scottish National 4/5 or Higher.

More from Exploring the House of Commons

How does an MP change the law?
How do MPs vote in the House of Commons?
What is a Private Members' Bill?
What is Prime Minister's Questions?
Changing Britain's Constitution
Public perceptions of British politicians
Why do MPs rebel?