Sunday, 22 November 2015

Drop the whip

So I've been thinking about the origin of the term 'whip' in political jargon. I've been assured by Wikipedia and a basic google search that it originates from a hunting term, which is understandable since most MPs would have been aristocratic estate managers in the mid-1800s when the term was first used.

However, to a modern ear the term has connotations of slavery and corporeal punishment. These impressions are reinforced by the actual behaviour of whips as political enforcers and disciplinarians. The film and TV industry loves the stereotype of a feared and unpleasant whip such as Malcolm Tucker of 'The Thick of It' or Frank Underwood of 'House of Cards'. They make great charachters and chime brilliantly with the modern sceptism of politician's motives and the capacity for abuse that their role gives them.

It would be a thankless task to rid British politics of the  multitude of references to a more inegalitarian age. We have the House of Lords and the token role of the Monarch in a 21st century government.  Ceremonial maces sit prominently by the front bench in televised political debates. Still it would be a definite improvement if once in a while the use of antiquated terms and definitions were considered in an institution that has often been seen as having an ingrained conservatism (small c) and has consistently failed to keep up with changing times.