"Oooh, that's a very good question. The government are the people in charge of the whole country. They make the laws, and they decide how much we all have to pay to use schools and hospitals and so on."
<desperately suppressing any desire to express
And since there's about to be a General Election, what could be a better idea than to attempt to explain to a three and a half year old the principles of the First Past The Post voting method in a constitutional monarchy. I know, you're all thinking that was a brilliant idea aren't you? I mean, what could possibly go wrong with this conversation? And with BigBear in on the conversation too, we're bound to make it clear, lucid and helpful aren't we? Even we couldn't make our child cry at the idea of an election. Could we?
BB: There's going to be a very special day in a few weeks time LittleBear. It's called an election
LB: What's that Daddy?
BB: It's when we all get to choose who we'd like to be in the government. All the grown ups in the country get to do something called voting
LB: What's voting?
PB: Well, everyone goes to special buildings and gets a piece of paper, and we all put a cross on our piece of paper, next to the name of the person we want to be in the government. Then when everyone has put their crosses on the pieces of paper, all the crosses are counted and whoever has the most crosses gets to be in government and be in charge.
LB: <bottom lip quivering, tears beginning to fall> I don't want you to do that Mummy!
PB: <feeling alarmed that the idea of voting is so distressing> What's wrong sweetheart?
LB: Who will look after me if you go away?
PB: <not quite grasping the problem> It only takes a couple of minutes to vote LittleBear, you can even come with me if you want to.
LB: But when you go to the government, who will look after me? <more tears falling now>
PB: <light dawning> Oh! No, no, no, I won't be going to be in the government, there's a list of names of people who want to be in the government and you just choose one of those to vote for. My name isn't on the list.
LittleBear cheers up a bit at this news. Then we take the, perhaps foolish, step of launching into a description of the party system, and First Past the Post....
PB: Each name on the list is from a different group. There's a red group and a blue group and a yellow group and a green group and a purple group and a white group here. There's one person from each group to choose from.
I have decided to avoid using the term "party". For LittleBear a party involves cake, balloons, presents and pass-the-parcel. While I am sure there isn't a politician in the land who wouldn't play pass-the-parcel and eat jelly to secure a handful more votes, LittleBear is not enfranchised and I don't really want to muddy the already murky waters any further. A lost cause at this point, but I have to try for some kind of clarity.
LB: Are we in the purple group?
<For the non-UK residents, purple are UKIP, who I would describe as a bigotted, racist, narrow-minded bunch of complete arseholes. If I were being generous>
PB: NO! We are definitely not in the purple group.
LB: Who tells you which group you're in?
BB: Nobody does. Everybody gets to choose which group they vote for, and you don't have to tell anyone who you voted for and nobody gets to tell you who to vote for. It's a bit like choosing your underpants in the morning.
It's a bit like choosing your underpants in the morning
It's possible this is the best description yet of a secret ballot. You don't have to tell anyone your choice, and nobody gets to tell you what to choose. It works particularly well for LittleBear as one of his current games is to not let me know the colour of his underpants. I have to "not notice" if I take him to the bathroom. He gets to tell me random colours through the day, at each of which I have to react with wonder and amazement, to which he has to respond "only teasing!" until finally we reach bath time when I can be truly amazed at the actual colour of his underpants. My life is just filled with excitement these days isn't it?
LB: And then what?
A pertinent question from my budding political analyst. What does happen then? We dodge the thorny issue of hung parliaments and coalitions, despite the fact that this is indubitably the direction the country is heading.
BB: Then, in each town, they count up all the votes and see who got the most. One person from each town gets to go and be in government. Whichever group has the most people in the government is in charge.
Towns? Constituencies? It's all the same when you're three and a half and think Russia is the same size as Rochdale.
LB: What group are we?
LB: But what group are we in. Here.
Light dawns. LittleBear actually wants to know the party of our local MP.
PB: We're in the blue group at the moment, because more people here voted for the blue person than for any other person.
LB: And who's in charge?
PB: The blue group are in charge.
Come on, I told you I'm not going into the issues of forming a coalition. LittleBear's friendships appear to be very fluid still, with today's "friend" merely being the person he happens to have played with most recently. I'm not going to expect him to grasp forming 5-year strategic political alliances. Not until he's at least 4 anyway.
...the following day...
LB: Can I vote for the green group?
PB: <slightly wrong-footed as we were just talking about sharks> Erm, well, no, you have to be 18 before you can vote.
LB: Can you vote?
PB: Yes I can.
LB: But you're not 18.
Good point, well made.
PB: Ah, no, you just have to be more than 18. I'm 40 aren't I?
LB: Is that more than 18?
PB: Yes, quite a lot more than 18 <quickly chants through all numbers from 18 to 40>
LB: Can you vote when you're 43?
PB: Yes, that's more than 18 as well.
LittleBear then proceeds to enquire about a great many ages, all of them above the age of 18. This could go on for a long time....
LB: <with an unexpected change of direction> What do the green group do?
PB: Well, erm, they think the most important thing is to look after the world properly, all the plants and animals and oceans and everything.
PB: Because that's a good idea. Isn't it?
That went better than I might have imagined.