Why UKIP won’t have a local party whip

By - Thursday 23rd January, 2014

The leader of Croydon’s branch of the United Kingdom Independence Party explains why he feels his party’s democratic principles mean it represents the best choice for voters in May

UKIP has a policy of having no local whip in order to represent local people and businesses
©Peter Staveley

The fact that there is no longer much difference between the old political parties has discouraged many people from taking an active interest in politics. Turnout at elections is very low and getting lower. Nevertheless politicians have an effect on all our lives (to a greater or lesser degree). They change the tax we pay, change the benefits people receive and, through their policies, change the environment that we live in. Survey after survey has shown that there is a democratic deficiency which politicians do not seem to be interested in correcting.

How have we got into this state?

Local candidates are party members that have been appointed (or elected) by relatively few local party members to be their party’s candidate.

Councillors are then elected by voters in a local election and so are meant to be there to represent the residents and businesses in the ward that they stood in. Legally they are not there to represent the party whose emblem they stood under. Unfortunately, both Conservative and Labour councillors are ‘whipped’. This means that the respective party groups decide in advance how every member will vote. There is virtually never any dissension because they got to be a councillor through the party system and so feel that they have a duty to their party over and above that to their electorate, i.e. the residents and businesses of their ward.

In any case, if a councillor decides to vote against their group vote then there are numerous hidden and visible sanctions available to their party’s leaders. Those leaders, or the party structure itself, can ensure that any councillor that consistently does not follow the party line (i.e. votes for what their voters want rather than what the party wants) will, ultimately, lose their seat and with it the £11,500 income and, of course, any prospect of promotion to be the group leader (who receives a high allowance from public funds). Of course, the group that is in power can grant cabinet posts with even higher allowances, all paid for from public funds; which means you and me.

I have asked several experienced current and former councillors (from all parties) in Croydon when there was last any rebellion in Croydon and they could not remember any such rebellions in recent times, certainly not on any significant vote.

UKIP does not have a local ‘whip’

In recent polls (and by-elections) it has been found that a significant proportion of UKIP votes comes not from Conservative or Labour voters but from voters who have either never voted or have not voted for a long time. One of the reasons for that is because UKIP has a unique national policy of having no local party whip in council chambers. So if there is a group of UKIP councillors on Croydon Council, there will not be any sanctions on any individual UKIP councillor or councillors who decide to vote differently to their colleagues.

Obviously, the group of UKIP councillors would meet before the main council meetings. They would discuss the issues that will arise in the meetings. However, if one or more UKIP councillors decide that it is in the best interests of the voters and businesses in their ward to vote differently to other UKIP councillors, then no sanctions will be imposed on them.

The result of this is that it will not be possible to assume that the UKIP councillors will vote with the majority group or the biggest opposition group. Indeed, if the UKIP group hold the balance of power then debates will actually have a meaning since each side will have to sway the votes of each of the UKIP councillors in order to win.

Benefits of UKIP having no local party whip

If UKIP councillors are elected, they will endeavour to achieve several things. No longer would the debate in the chamber be mere political posturing; they would have a purpose.

No longer could each side simply shout at each other and call each other names – if UKIP held the balance of power, their votes could shift away from the side of the aggressor.

UKIP councillors would, therefore, have all the benefits of independent candidates (i.e. representing their electors rather than their party) as well as the clear national policies which they would represent as UKIP members. But, of course, for local UKIP councillors local issues would come first.

So what is the net result of UKIP having no local Party whip?  I argue that it means that Croydon, at last, will be able to have:

  • Councillors who actually care about the local needs of their residents and businesses
  • Councillors who will vote according to the local needs of their residents and businesses, even if that means overriding the national policies of UKIP
  • Better and more meaningful debates in the Council Chamber
  • Councillors across the borough and across all the parties working with each other to promote Croydon – rather than just trying to score meaningless political points against each other

We are now certain that there will be at least one UKIP candidate in every ward in Croydon with some wards having two or even three candidates, so all voters will have the opportunity of voting UKIP for at least one of their votes.

I remember the council meeting to set this year’s council tax charges. Practically every councillor had the opportunity to speak, so the meeting went on for hours. All the speeches were predictable and fully toed their Party’s line. During the debate I thought “This is a waste of time and money. No councillor will change their vote because of what a councillor on the other side says. I know what the result will be because I can count the heads in the chamber.”

I feel that if UKIP (with a collection of other parties and/or independent councillors) were able to hold the balance of power, then the council administration group would be forced to provide proper arguments in order to win the vote rather than simply leaving it to whatever the party line is and the whips.

To say that a council with no overall control is an ineffective council is missing the point. If the policies of the administration group are in the interests of the people and businesses of Croydon and if the councillors truly represent the interests of the voters and the businesses in their area and not that of their party, then they will get passed. Therefore, it is essential that political dogma (and the party whips) are not allowed to get in the way of what is best for Croydon.

Peter Staveley

Peter Staveley

Peter gained an MSc in Transport Planning and Management. After working for British Rail, he started his own transport consultancy in 1995. Peter has lived in the Croydon since 1987. He joined UKIP in 2009 and since 2011 has been the Chairman of the UKIP Croydon Borough branch. He is also the UKIP London Region Treasurer and the party's deputy nominating officer for London. He will be standing as a UKIP candidate for the Addiscombe Ward in the May 2014 local elections. He is also the UKIP Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Croydon Central.

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  • Mario Creatura

    This is just the sort of bizarre, populist and entirely unworkable promise that you come to expect from UKIP. Indeed Nigel Farage only today abandoned all of UKIP’s 2010 general election manifesto pledges: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/01/nigel-farage-disowns-all-of-ukips-2010-manifesto-policies/

    Peter ignores a fundamental tenet of how our political system works. Pretty much anyone can run for public office, but the reason we have political parties is so that like-minded people can gather together and have the electorate vote for them and their like-minded policies. All this is done so the voters basically know what they’ll be getting over the term of office.

    If Peter is seriously suggesting that UKIP Councillors in Croydon wouldn’t have a whip, then I have to wonder whether any of them are really ‘UKIP’? What policies do UKIP candidates support if they won’t stand under a manifesto together? If they do stand under the purple and yellow banner as a political party, then Peter claims they’ll be allowed to break those promises come vote time in the Council. That’s loyalty to the voters right there!

    This, in reality, just won’t work. To get anything done, the majority of Councillors must agree to carry the vote – that’s where parties and their inherent ideologies come in. It enables a broad consensus to be decided by the voters every election, and for that direction to be followed for the duration of the term. What Peter is proposing is that Councillors have a greater freedom to decide what happens in Croydon, without the hassle of obeying their absent manifesto pledges to their constituents. Peter says that the current system is a waste of time, and I agree some reform is needed, but does he really think that Councillors united by nothing would get the job done any quicker? What would Croydon look like at the end of four years of utter chaos?

    In effect Peter is advocating that more Independent candidates should run, not for party political UKIP candidates. Make no mistake, UKIP are theoretically still a polticial party with an ideology that many will balk at. It has an underlying philosophy (though quite what that is even Farage seems to be struggling with these days).

    If you vote for a party, you basically know what you’re getting. Peter is reinforcing the already commonly held view that if you vote for UKIP you will have no idea what they’ll deliver for Croydon. That way surely madness lies?

    • Tom Black

      Forthright as ever, Mario! I do, however, share some of your questions. I’ve spoken with Peter about this offline before, but I’d be interested to see how UKIP can argue that a local manifesto can be meaningfully put forward if, without a whip, there is no means of reliably delivering on it.

      I suspect that UKIP’s current lack of a whip is a pragmatic, rather than ideological decision. If they found themselves in overall control of a local authority – which may or may not happen in the next five years – I suspect this ‘no whips’ idea would disappear. A UKIP local party that held a majority of seats on, for example, Croydon Council, would simply have to enforce a whip at some point or else become damned by Croydonians for failing to get anything done. Our council chamber would go from being a Soviet-style rubberstamping operation to a chaotic, unproductive talking shop overnight. There’s no way the ‘no whips’ policy will be maintained on councils where UKIP gain overall control, should they ever do so.

      At present, however, small groups of ‘kippers’ being able to present themselves as ‘non-machine’ anti-establishment figures on the council is beneficial for UKIP’s Poujadistic image. The Coalition has soured many Britons’ view of cross-party co-operation, leading to a perception that it is tantamount to selling out (if you’re left wing) or being hampered (if you’re right wing). UKIP are, quite astutely, trying to appear uninterested in such things, through this ‘no whips’ rule and (correct me if I am wrong here, Peter) actively avoiding entering coalitions or pacts on the councils they have representation on.

      I am myself no fan of the tightly-enforced whips we have in Croydon, though that problem is one of attitude and one that the Labour and Conservative parties must be pressured into relaxing over. Peter’s image of neutral UKIP councillors being swung by listening to debates is appealing, but I’m not sure it quite makes sense. Will a UKIP councillor not have their own views and ideological goals?

      However, this system is already being used in councils across the country, is it not? As Mario well knows, UKIP gained a huge number of councillors in May. Those who have not defected, resigned or formed their own splinter parties will not be using whips, will they? Perhaps Peter can tell us how it is working on those local authorities.

      • Peter Staveley

        By definition people join UKIP (and then are elected candidates) because they want democracy and to a lesser extent less government (fewer regulations and less waste) and ultimately lower Council Tax. Therefore, experience elsewhere has shown that UKIP councillors tend to have similar views and so there would be many issues (particularly issues of a more national nature) where they vote together.

        The point I was trying to make in my article was that on very local issues it would not be an unusual event for UKIP to vote differently
        depending on where they represent, particularly if the issue has a major local impact. So, for example, on the incinerator issue (and assuming that Croydon Council actually had any say in it) a UKIP councillor in Waddon (and most of the north of the borough) would almost vote against it because that is what local opinion appears to be saying. However, a UKIP councillor in the south of the borough may well vote for the incinerator because it might be a cheaper way to dispose of rubbish bearing in mind the huge land fill charges that are levied on Croydon Council as a direct result of the Landfill Directive. [I am not certain if it is cheaper, I am just using that as an example, so please do not get into a debate about that. However, for the record I would have voted against the incinerator on the basis of possible/likely health issues and additional road traffic.]

        If a UKIP councillor has personal views then they would be expected to inform their ward residents what those views are and seek their opinion. For myself, if elected, I would like to use Twitter, email lists and even Facebook if it actually helps me communicate with the local voters. Other UKIP councillors might use other methods that might be more appropriate to their area. If that opinion is against their personal views then the UKIP councillor would be expected to vote according to the local opinion and not according to their personal views.

        If they do not vote according to local opinion on a regular basis then words would be spoken. Ultimately leading to a disciplinary.

        Please remember I am going through this in great detail
        in order to explain the system. Experience elsewhere is that all of this just
        works with no voting problems at a local level.

        • Tom Black

          Thanks for the reply, Peter. This ‘communication with local opinion’ requirement seems flaky, I have to say. Have their been disciplinaries on other council groups for a failure to fulfill it?

          It sounds a lot like something that is very hard to measure. I’m also not convinced it would work – if, say, Mr and Mrs Cycleton are extremely active on social media and constantly encourage a UKIP councillor to vote to approve more and bigger cycle lanes, but lots of people who don’t want the cycle lanes are not on Facebook, Twitter or even the internet in general particularly often, are not Mr and Mrs Cycleton having an ‘inappropriate’ level of influence? (assuming a UKIP councillor would ever vote for cycle lanes – I am not sure that would be a particularly Faragite policy!)

          I am intrigued that you say it ‘works with no voting problems on a local level’ – do you have any links to blogs or articles on this subject that provide hard data? My suspicion is that, as you say, UKIP members are likely to agree on things (though they are likely to have more in common than ‘democracy and less government’, if the experience I have of UKIP members other than yourself is anything to go by), and so there is a de facto (but not de jure) whip for the sake of appearing united but not ‘machine’ like the ‘LibLabCon’ as you so quaintly call the two parties of government and the Lib Dems.

          • Peter Staveley

            So far as I know there have not been any disciplinaries
            for that reason. I think it goes back to my earlier point that most UKIP members joined UKIP in order to get our Country back. They are not career politicians and generally want to see more democracy, fewer regulations, reduction in bureaucracy, reduce in waste and lower taxation but retaining
            frontline services and providing the necessary infrastructure. It follows that those that have made it to be a candidate are doing it for similar reasons and they want to work with the community that, generally, they live in.

            Of course there have been disciplinaries for numerous other

            Yes, public opinion is very hard to measure. But if a UKIP councillor knows their ward well then they soon get to know whether a resident’s opinion is a one-off or whether it is representative of an underlying groundswell of opinion. I have been helping my local community for a few years and I could tell you whose opinion I would trust as being
            representative and those whose opinion I would play down.

            I must admit it is difficult to get hard data on the issue of no local whip, mainly because it is not a easy to pin-down subject. There are plenty of local UKIP websites that tell you want the local UKIP councillors are doing, but their tend to be fighting silly things that their administration is doing. I have spoken with numerous UKIP councillors and they just treat it as part of their role. They are there first and foremost to do
            what is in the best interests of the residents and businesses in their ward.

            I think you almost got the setup right in your description UKIP councillors can and often do appear united on certain issues. However, they can appear to be disunited on certain other issues.

            I like you implying that the Lib Dems are not a party of
            government. I am sure that early on in the Coalition they said that there were a party of government! That is why we call the political establishment the LibLabCon; you cannot tell the difference between them but they con you into thinking there is a difference.

    • Peter Staveley

      This is a typical response from someone who is embedded into the existing established party system.

      I am not certain that the residents and businesses in the wards of the 236 existing UKIP councillors around the UK would agree with you.

      UKIP is the official opposition of several county councils. Since May 2013 they have achieved a lot. For example, in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk they worked with the other opposition parties to return to the committee system of local councillors rather than the cabinet system that previously existed in those counties and exists in Croydon Council.

      The cabinet system puts all the power in the hands of a few, carefully chosen, councillors from the majority party. If you have ever attended a cabinet meeting you will know that the opposition party have no power and can only ask a few questions. At least with the committee system ordinary councillors from both sides get some power to decide how their local area should be run.

      You notice that I used the phrase ‘worked with’ and that is the important point. If the administration what the vote of UKIP councillors then they will have to persuade each of them to vote for their proposal on the merits of their case. There will not be any shady deals between the group leaders.

      If UKIP held the balance of power then, of course, the Conservatives could work with Labour and so not require any UKIP vote. That is fine because then at least 2 of the elected parties will be working together, a situation that does not currently exist.

      • Mario Creatura

        Peter, you profess that there wouldn’t be a whip for your theoretical UKIP Councillors. Yet you’ve already pledged a manifesto that will (among other things I hope) contain:

        “We will act on one hour’s free parking… littering, the prevention of building on open land, and high pay for Chief Executives of councils. For any council officer on more than £100,000 year.” – taken from today’s Public Gallery.

        What happens if one of your candidates doesn’t agree with one of those pledges when it comes to the vote? They change their mind or they disagree with the slight wording that is proposed? Will you suspend the whi… er… eject them from the party? What will the punishment be for not following the manifesto pledge? Or will there be none?

        I love discussing reforming ideas to improve engagement and increase representation, but a potentially whipless Council doesn’t work in political theory let alone cold reality.

        • Peter Staveley

          Firstly we actually have to get a vote! Too often the Conservative administration have not allowed the opposition to vote and when they did they ensured, through the whip system, that there was a Conservative majority. So it is hardly surprising that councillors shout at each other, I suspect it is out of frustration from the lack of democracy on the Council

          I have to say that if UKIP did not exist and if Labour became the majority party in Croydon I am sure that they will do the same to the Conservatives. So please do not think I am sympathising with either party.

          If a councillor voted against an item in the UKIP local manifesto
          then they would be required to provide evidence that their ward residents or businesses were against what was said in the UKIP local manifesto. If they could provide that evidence, through emails, online polls (where you can be reasonably sure of the address of the voter), canvassing on the streets, actually
          talking to residents etc. then there will be absolutely no action taken. Indeed, I suspect, we would mention it in the Chamber at appropriate moments.

          Regarding it not working, all I can say is that it is working in places such as Kent, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Aylesbury and many other places.

  • James Thompson

    There are a few things I take issue with in this article.

    Firstly, you start by stating voter turnout is very low – it’s true turnout has declined from historic highs (though in the 2010 – 65.1% and 2005 – 61.4% elections it increased) but to state it is very low is a very steep step indeed. In fact if you look at voter turnout across the globe between 1960-1995 Britain came 27th which isn’t what I would deem ‘very low’.

    You go on to imply that Councillors are simply party robots unable to do anything beyond the party line because they won’t vote against the party. To be quite honest I think this is a childish conclusion. You can debate and argue against something behind closed doors and get your opinion across, and in my opinion this would hold far more weight than voting against something in the chamber giving fuel to the opposition and emphasising splits in the party. It is also wrong to imply that what goes on in the chamber is solely what Councillors do, constituency work happens all the time where Councillors from all parties work hard to keep their constituents happy. The numerous committees also work hard in trying to help the borough. Your argument about not following the party line will hurt them when it comes to selection shows an extreme naivety towards the selection process certainly within the Conservative Party. Local members from the ward they are representing vote on who they wish to represent them – so surely it makes sense for them to vote for a candidate that will represent their views? Candidate de-selection happens more often than what you have implied.

    Your bullet points are just bizarre, all of those can be and have been achieved with a party whip system, fundamentally it exists because it needs to exist.

    The one point I will concede is the value of debate in the chamber – it is very farcical and it would be good if real debate existed, but I don’t think that’s because of the nature of the whip system, but rather because of what members choose to state and the general feeling of animosity between both sides. Both sides jeer each other – there is no whip making them do so, that is what is more wrong in my opinion.

    Voting UKIP isn’t some radical thing that will suddenly make you feel represented. Councillors work hard to understand their constituents already and do what they can to represent them but within a sensible system and without airing their dirty laundry in public. Quite simply what UKIP advocates is anarchy and I don’t believe there is any sensible political or non-political organisation in the world that would seriously go for such a move.

    • Peter Staveley

      I was referring to the local elections (when they did not occur on a General Election date).

      Yes, I agree, that all the bullet points could be achieved through a proper Party whip system. The problem is that it is not happening in Croydon as any visit to a Council meeting will show. The fact that both sides jeer at each other shows that they care more about abusing the other side that working towards a better Croydon.

      I think the problem is that having whips, ultimately, creates adversarial politics whereas what I think Croydon needs is more consensus politics. There is no evidence that neither Labour nor Conservative parties want consensus politics. I feel that the people of Croydon want consensus politics.

      • James Thompson

        I’m not sure they do or they’d be voting for UKIP which they haven’t ever done historically given you’ve never gained any seats on the council? People will vote for a party that represents them and the fact is in Croydon that is generally the Conservative or Labour. So long as the borough goes forward and people feel they are getting a good deal I don’t think they truly care about the how.

  • John Cartwright

    In answer to the question about rebellions: Since I started watching council meetings in 1998, there have been quite a few occasions when councillors voted against their party’s position (or abstained) or defected to other parties. They have almost always been by outgoing or deselected councillors in the months before a main local election. I don’t remember any in mid-term.

  • Martyn


    It seems despite the ‘we don’t whip’ messages from UKIP that other areas have taken a very different approach once getting elected. I would be surprised if Essex was the only UKIP council group doing the same.

    UKIP push a populist agenda and will say pretty much anything if they think it may help get them elected. Some of the material they are putting out in Wythenshawe and Sale East is laughable, Some looks like it comes from a far-left group, branding Labour the party of millionaires. They throw silly money around on by-elections they have no chance of winning (see Croydon North, where they outspent both the Liberal Democrats and Conservative Party and then claim victory). Who exactly is funding UKIP?

    UKIP portray themseleves as anti-system, firebrand radicals looking to shake up the establishment, and people are really buying into that underdog message in the media. The reality is they are a part of the same system as Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. They will harp on about parliamentary expenses, while at the same time they claim as much as they can from the European Parliament. They are funded by some very rich people, am I supposed to really believe UKIP are standing up for working people?

    • Peter Staveley

      UKIP gains votes from across the board as recent opinion
      polls have shown.

      Nearly all the donations come from ordinary people not