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In parliament a three line whip is said to be applied when a party seeks to ensure every MP turns up and votes the party line.

But why the term "three line" whip? And is there such a thing as a one or two line whip?

2 Answers 2

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There are indeed one and two line whips - they basically boil down to how strong the expectation to vote is.

A single whip is simply a guideline, while a double whip (or two line whip) is stricter - and attendance at the vote is required. The three-line whip is a 'vote with the party or get out'.

The number of lines comes from the number of times that a vote is underlined by the Chief Whip in the parliament's schedule.

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It's from ancient Athens. Citizens had a duty to vote on matters concerning the State. Laws on clothing could define your status and when not enough citizens could be bothered to attend an Assembly to vote, pairs of slaves were sent through the streets and squares of Central Athens holding a rope with a greasy red dye covering the middle section. They marked the tunic or cloak of a potential voter by slapping it against him. If the voter didn't go in the direction of the assembly at once, he stood the chance of being marked a second and even a third time. There were fines for non voting people with three stripes on their clothes hence 'A three line whip'. Also, being 'roped in' is from Athenian voting practices which was herding people from the market square to the assembly by slaves with ropes.

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