General Election Football Analogy

I once tried to explain the parliamentary electoral system to a teenage relative, using footballing terms. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s a lot more perfect than the way we choose our government.

“Imagine we’re having an election to choose which club plays in the Champions League next season – Chelsea, Manchester United, Accrington Stanley, whoever”


“However, we don’t get to vote for which team we want; each part of the country gets to vote for one of the players. So let’s say in East Anglia, we get to vote for the left-back.”

“So if I think Southampton’s left-back is the best left-back in the country, I would vote for him?”

“That’s right; you don’t get to vote for the club which is going to play in the Champions League next season, but you do get to vote for your favourite left-back.”

“OK… so if in East Anglia, we choose Southampton’s left-back, how does that affect the club which is going to play in the Champions League?”

“Well, once all the players have been chosen, by voters in different parts of the country, they see which club has the most players elected, and that club gets to play in the Champions League.”

“Eh? So if six of the players chosen are from Chelsea, then Chelsea are in the Champions League, even if their left-back (who we didn’t want) is rubbish?”

“Yep. Actually, it might only need three or four players from Chelsea to be chosen, as long as they’ve got more than any other club.”

“So how can I get, say, Manchester United to be our club in the Champions League?”

“Well, you could vote for Manchester United’s left-back.”

“But he’s rubbish too. I wouldn’t want to vote for him.”

“That’s all the choice they give you, unfortunately.”

“What happens to Southampton’s left-back if we choose him, but overall it’s Chelsea who end up as our club in the Champions League?”

“Southampton’s left-back would get to go to the match and hang around a bit, but he wouldn’t be in the team. Chelsea’s left-back would be the one who plays.”

“That’s just stupid.”

“That’s how they make sure it’s the same old clubs in the Champions League every season, even if they don’t have the best players.”