A three-line whip is a strict instruction to attend and vote, breach of which would normally have serious consequences. Permission not to attend may be given by the whip, but a serious reason is needed. Breach of a three-line whip can lead to expulsion from the parliamentary political group in extreme circumstances and may lead to expulsion from the party. Consequently, three-line whips are generally only issued on key issues, such as votes of confidence and supply. The nature of three-line whips and the potential punishments for revolt vary dramatically among parties and legislatures.
It seems quite curious to me that people still regard representative democracy with such fondness. Any representative has to balance the aggregated wishes of his community with his own beliefs, at the very best of times.
And here, in a matter where there is a broad belief in the "community" that the EU is not something we have universal love for, we encounter the true balance of power in the sham of our "representative" democracy. David Cameron has ordered a three-line whip to deny the British people a referendum on something that affects our lives every day, often in ways that British people do not want or agree with. I understand that Ed Miliband has done the same. The largely Europhile LibDems will be pretty much in the bag anyway.
This means that a handful of politicians effectively do get to decide things on our behalf, expressly rejecting the "democratic wishes" of the majority of the population. Cameron was democratically elected, and now has the ability to be a dictator on things that matter to him.
Even though a number of MPs will ignore the three-line whip, Cameron can be quite sure of his team of lobby-fodder sheep backing his wishes, and with the Labour Party whipped to deny us the referendum as well, he can be quite relaxed about those who disobey the whip. It all makes it look like there is actually democracy in action and the will of the majority has prevailed.
Cameron clearly has no desire to do anything to rock any boat, even though getting us out of the EU would probably get him re-elected by a landslide. He is clearly hoping to follow Blair into some other, grand, post-PM role and as an urbane member of the social democratic group, he probably quite likes the idea of having some grand political folly. Hence his three-line whip, hence his denial of a perfectly reasonable referendum. Behind that bland face and enormous forehead is the mind of a typical authoritarian cunt who knows better than all of us and is prepared to blatantly fuck us over to keep us in line.
Three-line whips are a test of the mettle of our politicians. I am quite certain that they will be found wanting. Again.
Update: I've just heard that the LibDems will be imposing a three-line whip. Why are our politicians so terrified of the will of the British people regarding the EU?