Chief Whip

Last week I met the Chief Whip. To the uninformed or those from foreign lands, this sounds like some disciplinary equipment from a former age. In fact, it is a senior post within the British Government whose occupant officially resides at Number 9, Downing Street. The government consists of the party in the Commons which can outvote all the others. But what if MPs vote according to their own beliefs rather than the wishes of the Prime Minister? The Chief Whip, along with his team of Whips, is tasked with persuading backbenchers to tow the party line. He is the Prime Minister’s ‘enforcer’. His job is to keep an eye on MPs, listening for information and discovering voting intentions. John McTernan writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2014, said the Chief Whip ‘is just like Moriarty as described by Sherlock Holmes: “He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organised. 

McTernan recalled Jack Straw telling of ‘his first encounter with the party’s deputy chief whip, Walter Harrison. Straw was pushed to the wall and had his testicles grabbed fiercely. Gasping, he asked what he’d done. “Nowt,” came the response, “but think what I’d do if you crossed me.”’ There is no suggestion here that the current incumbent or his deputies would employ such coarse tactics.

Sometimes there is conflict between MPs and the Chief Whip. The formers’ loyalty is primarily to their own constituents whose employee they are; on the other hand, the Prime Minister’s policies and publicity accounts in part for many MPs’ successful elections. A balancing act must be struck between MPs voting with their consciences against the PM’s wishes and loyalty to the party. Any MP who disagrees strongly with their party’s ideas should probably not have stood for election on that ticket and become an independent. 

I see a parallel here with Christian unity on Christian doctrine. There are some theological and practical positions which each believer must determine for themselves, according to their own study of scripture. There are other, more fundamental points for which some errant believers need a meeting with the Chief Whip.

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Jude 3