Sandy speaks on matters of life and mirth.
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Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Short Explanation of Why British Politics is Messed Up

So I was speaking to an American friend, who was asking why electoral reform was so important, and what was wrong with the system that we had. I came up with this example as the best way of explaining it:

Imagine you live on a desert island. (Not like the one on Lost - this one doesn't have a make-up department) On the island with you are 99 other people. You decide that, in order to survive, you will need a group of ten people to be in charge, with one of those people further selected to be the Chief. So, you have an election, right? Everyone votes once for their preferred candidate, and the five people with the most votes get to be the ruling council, and the one with the highest vote total gets to be chief. This makes sense to everyone, and is very simple to organise.

The British electoral system is NOTHING like this.

Let us return to our island. Imagine, if you will, that we are having our election once more. Only this time, instead of having 100 inhabitants, there are 1000. So, let us expand our number of representatives to 100. Now, we have a problem - 100 people are unlikely to be able to reach a consensus through discussion alone, and so we introduce a system of voting - if a representative likes an idea, they vote yes, if they don't, they vote no. An idea requires more 'yes' votes than 'no' votes to be passed. The representatives are still voted for by the population, with the 100 people getting the most votes getting to be representatives, and once more, the person who has the highest vote total gets to be Chief.

The British electoral system is A BIT like this.

Once more, back to the island. We still have our thousand voters, our hundred representatives, but now, the people are spread out a bit, and so the representatives are assigned to a specific geographical location. The people who live round the waterhole get to vote for one representative, the people who live on the beach get to vote for one representative, and so on. The Chief is decided by all the representatives getting one vote for who among them they would like to be in charge.

The British electoral system is KIND OF like this.

For the last time, we return to the island. This time, the areas that elect a representative are all different sizes, with the largest comprising five times as many people as the smallest. People who don't subscribe to one of three sets of largely interchangeable sets of values have no chance of becoming representatives. When, inevitably, someone from 'The Big Three' is chosen as a representative, their ability to disagree with the other people who say they hold those values is almost non-existent, reducing them to little more than puppets. The three value sets, despite being broadly similar, are so antagonistic towards one another that any idea proposed by anyone will only be agreed upon if the people who came up with it have more representatives than anyone else, and so are able to force it through. Any discussion is treated more as an opportunity to score points off other people, so much so that the second largest group of representatives has the official title of 'The Opposition'. Oh, and the chief? The leader of the biggest value set gets to be Chief... no matter how many votes he got, regardless of what the population of the island think of him.

The British electoral system is EXACTLY like this.

Except that we don't live on a desert island. It rains. All the time.

Now do you understand why we need electoral reform?