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In the UK the major parties have a Chief Whip whose role it is keep the party members voting as the leadership want.

The Chief Whip is a political office in some legislatures assigned to an elected member whose task is to administer the whipping system that ensures that members of the party attend and vote as the party leadership desires.

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In a democratic system how is this role justified? Common sense suggests MPs be free to vote based on their conscience and based on their constituents' best interests. If there is a role specifically to bully other MPs to vote a particular way, how is that different from more oppressive forms of government?

  • I don't think that "chief whip" is actually a position in the government so much as it's a position within the party. If you read futher into that article, you'll find that chief whips tend to hold actual positions in parliament such as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury – Sam I am Jul 17 '14 at 17:56
  • @SamIam: indeed; opposition parties have whips too, and they're certainly not in government. The same is true for both parties in the US Congress, which is entirely separate from the Executive. – Steve Melnikoff Jul 18 '14 at 13:28
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A whip is a little more nuanced than simply a person who constantly tries to keep everyone following the party line. For every issue, they're responsible for knowing the vote count, who is on the fence, and who is a lost cause, so the party can use that information to only bring forth legislation it's confident will pass.

When signature legislation is proposed, yes, they are responsible for making sure the party members are all in support of it. This isn't a huge destruction of democracy in most cases; members freely choose to join a party and support the opinions of that party. In return the party gives them more publicity and gives them a bigger voice to support their own views so long as they align with the party.

It also simplifies things for citizens, because party membership instantly communicates a person's view on many issues. There are plenty of other ways for a whip to accomplish their goals than just bullying; votes can be traded like a commodity and it's up to each member to decide if voting against their belief on issue X is worth their party proposing legislation on issue Y that they care much more about.

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