Brexit: What does the chief whip do in government?

Government chief whip, Julian Smith Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chief whip Julian Smith says he's "dealing with colleagues 24/7"

A whip. A nice car, a dance move, a "knackered" bloke whose job it is to get MPs to vote the way their party wants.

You might remember Meridian Dan's track ft Big H and JME or maybe Silento's hit Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) but there's another whip you need to know about and it's to do with politics and, at the moment, Brexit.

The chief whip is the person in charge of telling hundreds of politicians in his party how they should vote.

But Julian Smith, fed up of MPs going against Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservative's official party line, has come out and said they're "the worst example of ill-discipline in cabinet in British political history".


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Another type of whip - often used to keep control

What's a whip?

You won't hear the whip shouting "Odd-DEURRR" like speaker John Bercow, or on his feet debating in Parliament.

Julian Smith is working behind the scenes and speaking to politicians in his Tory party to make sure the maximum number of them vote and vote the way the party want them to.

He doesn't work alone, there are around 14 whips in his Conservative team - that's to try to keep well over 250 MPs in line.

It's called "party discipline" and there is an unwritten rule that pressures MPs to override their beliefs if they conflict with the decisions made by the party.

MPs, in return for receiving their party's official endorsement and organisational support at an election, are expected to "follow the whip".

Whipping up support

Ever dread an email from the boss? That might be a little how MPs feel upon receiving the Whip (we're not being kinky here).

Because the Whip is also the name of a weekly email that tells politicians what's coming up in Parliament, which votes are happening and more importantly HOW they are expected to vote.

They are ranked in order of importance, very simply by how many times they're underlined.

A one-line whip means you don't have to turn up to vote if you don't feel like it, but if you do, you must vote with the whip. A two-line whip means that you don't have to turn up provided you have a good excuse. A three-line whip means turn up or else.

The underlining technique can be useful for all of us...sometimes...

Matt thought it meant order of track listings for Ariana Grande's album Sweetener in 2018.

He was wrong. God Is a Woman was the second single. Unlucky Matt.

It was even used in one of the most complex military operations ever undertaken - the D-Day landings - when allied forces invaded France during World War II on 6 June 1944.

A note written in pencil with the title "Most Secret" became public in 2016.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Simplicity was apparently the key to invading France during World War II

It breaks down the armed forces into separate sections, lists the special armoured vehicles to be used by the first units ashore and notes that "The key note of everything to be SIMPLICITY". Underlined three times.

Back to 2019 though and whipping.

As an MP if you don't show up to a three-line whip and vote the way the PM wants, you could find yourself in deep trouble, in some cases even being kicked out of the party.

Tough job

Julian Smith says he's "dealing with colleagues 24/7" and let's face it, he looks pretty tired right now.

Big name Conservatives haven't really been playing ball since the Brexit process began more than a thousand days ago (although it feels like longer).

Boris Johnson is just one example of an MP formerly on the prime minister's top team, who hasn't been afraid to rebel over how he thinks Brexit should happen.

So it's no surprise that the chief whip has described the politicians he's supposed to be able to influence as ill-disciplined.

Julian Smith has also accused them of trying to destabilise his boss, rather than cracking on with the job at hand.

It's embarrassing for the prime minister to call a big vote and then lose it, but that's something Theresa May is getting used to.

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