Edinburgh Council: The perils of being the one who wields the whip against rebels – Steve Cardownie

In the City Chambers, the role of group whip is challenging and can often be “a poisoned chalice”.

By Steve Cardownie
Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 12:30 pm
Peter Capaldi made the ultimate party enforcer as official Malcolm Tucker in comedy drama The Thick of It, but Edinburgh Council group whips who take a similar approach will not be popular (Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Peter Capaldi made the ultimate party enforcer as official Malcolm Tucker in comedy drama The Thick of It, but Edinburgh Council group whips who take a similar approach will not be popular (Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Charged with maintaining discipline within the group, the position can be fraught with difficulty. Group members are expected to vote according to policy, which is determined at group meetings and can only vote against or abstain in exceptional circumstances, although there are some occasions where this rule does not hold and group members decide to give “a two-fingered salute” to the group and defy its position on an issue.

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This is where the group whip is expected to act and recommend some sanction against the offending member, which can range from just noting the position to, in extreme cases, expulsion from the group.

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The whip has to make a carefully considered decision, taking account of precedent and the severity of the offence, eg was the group’s position lost due to the member’s actions and did they know that this would be the result?

Anyone who defies the whip is all too aware of the potential consequences of their actions but nevertheless sometimes hold the group whip responsible for their fate and are not likely to forget it.

Anyone who has political aspirations above and beyond the group whip position normally declines this position if offered, as the opportunity to enlist support for a loftier role might be diminished if there are a few aggrieved members who have suffered some disciplinary action as a result of the group whip’s recommendation.

It is not normally a role that readily attracts friends but it forms a crucial component of the political machine and so should not be underestimated.

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