Wikipedia states that they ensure that members of the party vote according to the party platform, rather than according to their own individual ideology or the will of their donors or constituents.

This is an unsourced claim so I am wondering if this is correct? I would have thought that is undemocratic as they should vote based on the wishes of their constituents.


2 Answers 2


This depends on the nation in question. Generally, two issues collide:

  • Representatives tend to be free in the exercise of their mandate.
    There may be an option of a recall vote, but unless that happens, an individual representative is elected for the term, and free to vote against previous promises and the party platform. (Besides, the platform might not even cover a novel problem.) Reckoning comes with the next election.
  • Parties need to operate and negotiate in a coherent manner.
    When parts of the legislative meet in working subcommittes to hammer out a compromise, the specialists from each party (on education, defense, environment, the overall budget, ...) must be able to deliver what they promise. It wouldn't be possible to negotiate a compromise like 'we get protection in this wetland, you get logging in that forest' if both are separate votes and there is no party line.

When the freedom of the mandate is constitutionally protected, the party leadership has to be very polite about communicating their wishes. This leads to fictions like the number of times a wish is underlined in a letter. The threat/leverage of the party in this communication is party support during the next election. The legislator may be free to disregard the party, but the party is equally free not to support the legislator during the next election, or even not to make her or him a candidate on the party ticket.

  • 2
    'the party leadership has to be very polite about communicating their wishes' Note that OP is located in the UK, where the last few days have seen high-profile allegations of whips committing both breaches of the Ministerial Code and criminal offences in the course of trying to get certain votes to go their way. Jan 23 at 11:51
  • @DanielHatton, I called the mere underlining of wishes a fiction. Politically speaking, I support the existence of whips, but one should be overt about it -- failure to follow the party platform in important issues leads to party expulsion, unless one manages to challenge the party leadership in the process.
    – o.m.
    Jan 23 at 16:10
  • @o.m.: To some extent, it also depends on whether you prefer the British system (the party chooses the candidate by internal processes) or the American system (the electorate chooses the candidate by voting in a primary). The latter is arguably more democratic but may make party discipline a harder problem to solve (some would say it puts too much power in the hands of a small number of moderates).
    – Kevin
    Jan 25 at 22:31

Whips are members of a parliament who organise their party's contribution to the parliament

There is a reasonable assumption made by voters that their elected representatives will vote according to the party platform on which they were elected, and more generally in a manner consistent with the ideals and philosophy of that party.

That is to say, if a constituency elects a Conservative candidate as MP, it is a reasonable expectation that the MP should vote as a Conservative. And it is the whips' job to ensure that the constituents' expectations are met.

  • Agree. Voters can be somewhat expected to be familiar with the aims and platform of the larger party, because that is what the press covers. But it would be unrealistic to expect the average voter to have to examine the exact positions of their local representative - there is really nowhere convenient to get that information. Attending the candidate's rallies or reading their own communications does not have much in terms of adversarial fact checking like press coverage. Jan 23 at 19:28
  • -n! I always thought that the way democracy works is that there is reasonable assumption made by voters that their elected representatives will vote in a way that represents the voters who put them there, or at a bare minimum, in a way that is to their benefit. Isn't that the general idea behind a representative democracy? When did "party above constituency" become a reasonable assumption?
    – uhoh
    Jan 23 at 22:38
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica ditto
    – uhoh
    Jan 23 at 22:39
  • @uhoh You misunderstand. In order to represent the constituency they must vote according to party and not personal whim. The Constituency says "We want a Conservative" and they expect to get a Conservative. If that Conservative decides to vote with Labour, then they are not representing the Constituency that elected them. The idea that a constituency could choose a Conservative and get someone who votes with Labour would be profoundly undemocratic.
    – James K
    Jan 23 at 23:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .