Archive for May, 2010

Politics, electoral reform and wine

May 10, 2010

An analogy for you (actually my wife’s, but my version is better – you’ll just have to trust me on that as she probably won’t write her’s down).

There is a lot of drivel being written about electoral reform and the difficulties of interpreting the UK general election result (which as I write is still inconclusive). So amongst this incoherence, it’s always fun to try and come up with a new way of looking at it.

Some people are suggesting that voting is like going to supermarket. That’s nonsense, as it is, for the majority of us, like going to supermarket and then getting not what you choose, but what happened to be the most popular choice. So I go looking for Hob-nobs, but I end up with Kit-kats as they were the most popular that day. Voting isn’t like going shopping.

Equally, lots of people are suggesting that it is unfair that Labour could be part of a government when they came second nationally. This is also silly. More people voted against the Conservative Party than with it (by some margin), so I’m not sure what sense it makes, in representational terms, to argue that the Conservatives should automatically get to form a government.

An analogy can illustrate this.

Imagine you are in a restaurant. There are 11 of you around a table. Four people want Chardonnay with the dinner – they choose the same wine. Seven people, however, would prefer red wine. But they want different kinds of red wine. Three want merlot, three want Cab Sav, one wants a Shiraz. They wall want red wine, but because they don’t want the same red wine, and because we have silly rules, everyone gets Chardonnay. Even though there is a majority against white wine (which is right and proper as far as I’m concerned), we all end up drinking it.

Wouldn’t it, in this case, be more sensible for the red wine drinkers to hammer out a deal? Perhaps we could have two bottles of red, and one bottle of white? Why on earth do we think that one bottle of wine is capable of representing the wine views around the table?

But of course that’s exactly what we do with a first-past-the-post electoral system. I now live in a Conservative seat when the majority of people in my constituency voted against the Conservatives. I have to drink white wine when most people voted for red.

This cuts both ways. Between 1997 and 2010 the majority of people voted against Labour, but we ended up with a Labour government. They had some good ideas, but also some stinkers. Perhaps we might have avoided the stinkers had they been required to negotiate with other viewpoints, through an electoral system that didn’t present them with a large majority when most people voted against them.

We don’t need strong government. We need representative government, with open and transparent discussion of the compromises necessary to form policy and law. We aren’t terribly good at the latter.

Until we make some progress on talking to each other, most of us end up drinking wine we didn’t order. That’s not democracy, it’s nonsense.