A while back I was asked to put together a brief talk on electoral reform, and my quirky speaking style immediately jumped to the topic of cake. I like cake, most other people do as well, so I thought I would equate voting to getting a slice of cake at a party.
In this example, I asked the audience to think about what might happen if they were tasked with dividing a cake among attendees at a children’s party, but with an additional reward for the winner(s) of a race. Under our current system, First Past The Post, the division is simple: the whole cake goes to the winner of the race, and every other participant gets nothing. What did I suggest the outcome of this would be?
In short, the cakeless children would be infuriated by this turn of affairs, recognising that this method of division was woefully unfair for everyone and that only the winner would be happy at the outcome. This analogy is fairly good for the elections which happen in each Constituency, as only one candidate will ultimately be returned to Westminster to represent the electorate, and they will have the same authority whether they receive 100% of the vote or tie with second place and then win a coin flip (I wish this was a joke, but it is actually how an MP is chosen when there is a tie).
Continuing the analogy, how could we come up with a system of dividing the cake which is fairer to all participants? As parents, presumably the logical next step is to consider whether it makes sense to simply divide the cake equally, and I would suggest this is indeed a suitable approach in real-world examples. There are other options though, including dividing the cake into equal slices and giving a certain number of slices to each participant in proportion to their performance. This encourages both competition and participation, so it may well be the ideal solution to a competitive event like a vote.
Where the analogy is slightly weaker is when the national representation is considered, but this is largely because children’s parties rarely pit winners of races against one another in any way, but if they did the outcome would likewise be unfair by design.
Essentially the system is designed to be easy to understand and implement, and it is far more likely to produce a majority than not despite the fact that most elections do not result in a majority of the actual votes going to one party. Clearly this system is unfair, and I would argue it is contrary to the basic principles of democracy, in that it is designed to lead to over representation of some parties at the expense of others.
If we want our government to reflect the actual votes cast – in other words if we want proper democracy – then we need to bring in a form of proportional representation to make sure that the government is the one chosen by voters. Doing so would be an acknowledgement that democracy is important to our society and would enfranchise many currently disillusioned voters whose voice currently is completely ignored.
As a final point, I want to reiterate just how bad the current system is by considering a system of electing a government that would actually lead to better representation of the electorate, namely picking our MPs at random from the electoral roll. Mathematically we would expect a sufficiently large sample to accurately reflect society at large. The fact that this is a better system than the one we currently have emphasises just how inadequate our current method of selecting MPs really is.
If you agree with this assessment then the only way to bring about a change for the better is to vote for parties which have wholly committed to bringing in a form of proportional representation. The future of our democracy is ultimately in the hands of the electorate.