The Three Little Pigs: an Alternative Vote fairytale

I’ve grown tired of hearing the No2AV campaign talk about how the proposed Alternative Vote system is too complicated for people to understand. They know perfectly well that it isn’t, but just spreading the claim is enough to muddy the waters and put people off trying to understand it, because, by golly, if the Prime Minister thinks it’s complicated then what chance do we have?

At the same time, though, I don’t feel that the Yes campaign have been particularly strong at responding to that claim: by over-simplifying it through weak analogies (“it’s like going to the shops for a chocolate bar, and finding that they don’t have your first choice, so you have to go for your second choice instead – but you still only get the one chocolate bar”) people are being left with the impression that the pro-AV crowd are glossing over important details, and the suspicion that it’s probably a lot murkier once you start digging under the surface (which people aren’t going to do, because we’re all too busy to read up on voting systems, and someone said that it was really complicated. And so on ad infinitum).

So, to do my bit to support the cause, and hopefully quash the “it’s too complicated!” mantra once and for all, I’ve attempted to explain AV in full, through the medium of a children’s story.

I’m no Lewis Carroll – this is really just an idea that I thought was worth putting into words – so I’m releasing it under a Creative Commons attribution licence. If this captures your imagination, and you have literary / copy-editing skills, please do go ahead and weave your magic on it. Or make some illustrations, or print out a bunch of copies and make a load of money off it, or persuade your celebrity friends to make an audiobook version of it. Or even, if you’re so inclined, rework it into a pro-first-past-the-post story. What this debate needs is more down-to-earth constructive arguments, from both sides.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin:

The Three Little Pigs: an Alternative Vote fairytale

by Matt Westcott

Once upon a time, there was a farm. On this farm, there lived some pigs, some cows, some chickens and some horses.

The animals on the farm were very unhappy, because the farm was run by the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends. They were very cruel to the animals on the farm, and every harvest time, they would take all of the farm’s crops for themselves. All the other animals longed for the day when the Big Bad Wolf wouldn’t be running the farm any more.

Every summer the animals would get together in the yard outside the big farmhouse for a special ceremony. Each animal would get to choose who they wanted to run the farm for the following year. One by one, they would go up to wise old Mr Owl and tell him their choice, and wise Mr Owl would count up the votes and decide who would be king of the farm.

One summer, Billy, Benny and Bobby, the three little pigs, decided that they’d had enough of the Big Bad Wolf. Each of them thought long and hard about what to do… and slowly, one by one, they each had the same idea. “If I get the animals to choose me as king of the farm,” thought Billy, Benny and Bobby, “I’ll run the farm in a much fairer way. I’ll make sure all of the animals have enough food, and together we’ll all live happily ever after.”

And so, on a beautiful summer morning, Billy the pig went to visit Dora, Debra and Dinah, the chickens, to tell them about his plans. “If I become king of the farm,” said Billy, “I’ll send the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends back to the forest. At harvest time, we’ll take the farm’s crops to the market, and with the money we make, we’ll paint the hen-house red.” “Oh, Billy, what a wonderful idea!” exclaimed Dora. “We’ll vote for you, we promise!”

Meanwhile, Benny the pig went to visit Myrtle and Molly, the cows, to tell them about his plans. “If I become king of the farm,” said Billy, “I’ll send the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends back to the forest. At harvest time, we’ll take the farm’s crops to the market, and with the money we make, we’ll paint the cow-shed blue.” “Mmm… That does sound like a good idea,” said Myrtle as she chewed on a strand of hay. “We’ll certainly vote for you!”

Meanwhile, Bobby the pig went to visit Henry the horse, to tell him about his plans. “If I become king of the farm,” explained Bobby, “I’ll send the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends back to the forest. At harvest time, we’ll take the farm’s crops to the market, and with the money we make, we’ll paint the stables yellow.” “I say! What a jolly good idea!” said Henry. “I’ll be voting for you, that’s for sure!”

And so the day came when the animals would choose who was to become king of the farm. The chickens were the first to come up to wise old Mr Owl and tell him their choices. “Hello, Dora,” said wise Mr Owl. “Hello, Debra, Hello, Dinah. Whooo do you choooose?”

“We choose Billy!” said Dora, Debra and Dinah. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

The cows were next to visit wise old Mr Owl. “Hello, Myrtle,” said wise Mr Owl. “Hello, Molly. Whooo do you chooose?”

“We choose Benny!” said Myrtle and Molly. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

Next, it was the turn of Henry the horse. “Hello, Henry,” said wise Mr Owl. “Whooo do you chooose?”

“I choose Bobby!” said Henry. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

Finally, the Big Bad Wolf’s four wolfy friends came up to wise Mr Owl to make their choices. “Hello, Wolfson. Hello, Wolfingham. Hello, Wolferton. Hello, Wolfhamstow,” said wise Mr Owl. “Whooo do you chooose?”

“WE WANT THE BIG BAD WOLF!” they all shouted together. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

The animals all gathered round to hear who would be king of the farm for the next year. “In fourth place, with one vote – Bobby the pig”, began wise Mr Owl. “In third place, with two votes – Benny the pig. In second place, with three votes – Billy the pig. Which means that this year’s king of the farm, with four votes, is… The Big Bad Wolf.”

All the animals gasped with surprise.

“Oh, Mr Owly!” cried Dora. “None of us wanted the Big Bad Wolf to win. We chose Billy because we so dearly wanted our beautiful new hen-house, but really we would have been happy with Benny or Bobby. I know that Henry and Myrtle and Molly feel the same way too. The only animals who wanted the Big Bad Wolf to win were his four wolfy friends!”

“I’m sorry, Dora… that’s how the rules work,” explained wise Mr Owl. “The Big Bad Wolf got more votes than any of the three little pigs, so he becomes king of the farm.”

Autumn came, and at harvest time, the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends were worse than ever. Once again, they kept all the farm’s crops for themselves, and the animals went hungry. Winter came, and rainstorms battered the hen-house, the cow-shed, and the stables, leaving the walls rusted and the old paint flaking off. Spring came, and the three little pigs were determined not to give up – they decided they would stand up against the Big Bad Wolf once again.

And so, on another beautiful summer morning, Billy the pig went to the hen-house to visit Dora, Debra and Dinah. Once again, he told them that if he became king of the farm, he would share out the crops more fairly, and with the money they made at market, they would paint the hen-house red. “Oh, Billy, it still sounds like a wonderful idea,” said Dora, “but how will we make that happen if the Big Bad Wolf wins again?” “We’ll make it work out – somehow,” replied Billy.

Meanwhile, Benny the pig went down to the cow-shed to visit Myrtle and Molly. Once again, he told them that if he became king of the farm, he would share out the crops more fairly, and with the money they made at market, they would paint the cow-shed blue. “It still sounds like an awfully good idea,” said Myrtle, “but how will we make that happen if the Big Bad Wolf wins again?” “We’ll make it work out – somehow,” replied Benny.

Meanwhile, Bobby the pig went down to the stables to meet Henry the horse. Once again, he told Henry that if he became king of the farm, he would share out the crops more fairly, and with the money they made at market, they would paint the stables yellow. “It’s still a jolly good idea,” said Henry, “but how will we make that happen if the Big Bad Wolf wins again?” “We’ll make it work out – somehow,” replied Bobby.

Soon, the day came round when the animals would choose who was to become king of the farm. They all gathered round in the yard outside the big farmhouse to hear wise old Mr Owl make an announcement. “We’ll be doing things a bit differently this year,” he explained. “This time, you’ll still give me your favourite choice, but you can also tell me your second choice, third choice, and even fourth choice.”

The animals all chattered with excitement at the news. The chickens were the first to come up to wise old Mr Owl. “Hello, Dora,” said wise Mr Owl. “Hello, Debra, Hello, Dinah. Whooo do you choooose?”

“We choose Billy,” said Dora, Debra and Dinah, “but our second choice is Benny, and our third choice is Bobby.” “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

The cows were next to visit wise old Mr Owl. “Hello, Myrtle,” said wise Mr Owl. “Hello, Molly. Whooo do you chooose?”

“We choose Benny,” said Myrtle and Molly, “but our second choice is Bobby, and our third choice is Billy.” “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

Next, it was the turn of Henry the horse. “Hello, Henry,” said wise Mr Owl. “Whooo do you chooose?”

“I choose Bobby,” said Henry, “but my second choice is Billy, and my third choice is Benny.” “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

Finally, the Big Bad Wolf’s four wolfy friends came up to wise Mr Owl to make their choices. “Hello, Wolfson. Hello, Wolfingham. Hello, Wolferton. Hello, Wolfhamstow,” said wise Mr Owl. “Whooo do you chooose?”

“WE WANT THE BIG BAD WOLF!” they all shouted together. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

The animals gathered in the yard, eager to hear who would be the new king of the farm. “I have some very interesting news,” declared wise Mr Owl. “The Big Bad Wolf had the most votes, but there was no clear winner. He only received four votes, out of a total of ten.

“This means that we need to go to a second round. Bobby the pig only received one vote, so we’ll take him out of the contest, and count the votes again. Now, the Big Bad Wolf still has four votes. Billy the pig has four votes, and Benny the pig has two votes.

“Well I never! We still don’t have a clear winner! That means we need to take Benny the pig out of the contest, and go to a third round. Benny and Bobby are out now, so we need to use Myrtle and Molly’s third choice. Counting it all up, then – the Big Bad Wolf still has four votes, and the new king of the farm, with six votes, is… Billy the pig!”

All the animals on the farm cheered. All the animals, that is, except the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends – because they knew that their time of treating the other animals unfairly was at an end.

The following harvest time, the farm had its biggest crop ever. The wolves were no longer around to take it away from them, and when the animals took it to market, they were delighted to find that they’d made enough money to paint not just the hen-house, but the cow-shed and the stables too. The animals enjoyed their newly decorated homes, and they all lived happily ever after.


Creative Commons License
The Three Little Pigs: an Alternative Vote fairytale by Matt Westcott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

10 Responses to “The Three Little Pigs: an Alternative Vote fairytale”

  1. Tim says:

    I totally agree, although I quite like the chocolate bar thing – it’s a pretty good one-line repost to the retarded “One person one vote” thing.

    I also liked this one-liner: “You should vote No to AV if you can’t count to three.”

    Also your story is quite a bit longer than a simple explanation of AV!

  2. Eq says:

    So basically “it gives the little guy more of a chance”. Unfortunately, there are good little guys (Green Party possibly?) and bad little guys (BNP possibly?), and since people are drooling fools there is at *least* as much chance that they will vote for the bad ones as the good ones, and honestly I’d rather have either crappy Tories or crappy Labour over BNP. This is obviously very defeatist and annoying, but that’s the only conclusion I’ve really been able to reach. I think my problem isn’t so much with the Big Two as with democracy. An awful person’s vote counts as much as a non-awful person’s. Still, my idea of “awful” is atypical, and if I made the choice it would be a dictatorship, and what can ya do.

  3. K says:

    The way to get around the ‘bad’ little people risk is to have a RON category – this stands for Re-Open Nminations. It is simply another choice which you can have at any point in your list. It means I want to look for other candidates instead of any of the other options. If you don’t like anyone you can put it first but more realistically you can rank the candidates you like and/or will tolerate, then put RON and finally the candidates you find unacceptable. Even allowing for the ‘drooling fools’ there should be enough people from the ‘good little’ guys and big name parties who will all put RON for the ‘bad little’ guys.

  4. G says:

    “you can rank the candidates you like and/or will tolerate, then put RON and finally the candidates you find unacceptable.”
    Actually K, you only need to put the candidates you will tolerate. For example the wolves only chose the Big Bad Wolf as their 1st choice and nobody else. If you have a RON option you can’t list anyone below RON (it sort of defies/dilutes the point of RON).

    It doesn’t just help the little guys. It helps the guys that have similar policies (similar because they contain some of your desired policies) get your votes. Reading Eq’s comment it actually seems AV would be suitable for them.

  5. Simon says:

    @Eq: I wouldn’t worry – for somebody like the BNP to get in, it would still need half of the voters to think that they were better than somebody else!

  6. Simon says:

    Correction to my last comment for the pendants :-)
    For the BNP to get in, it would still need half of the voters to think that they were *no worse* than anybody else.

  7. deborah scollan says:

    Tooooo Long…my attention span is 3 minutes !!
    What has been sent through my door from the election commission was nicely succinct, easily comprehensible and thus I probably will vote for the AV

  8. Chris says:

    Cute story, if somewhat laborious! I am fed up with none of the parties, or combination there of, accurately reflecting my wishes. the problem is that the parties choose the agenda. No change to the voting system will modify this. I worry that by letting in av people will satisfy the desire to eliminate fptp and we will miss a golden opportunity to change the face of democracy completely. I think with modern internet technology people can write personal statements expressing their wishes. these can be aggregated to form a mandate to government. politicians can be elected or booted out in a separate vote. Their task is to assign resource to implement a mandate which is not their own. they are elected for integrity and competence rather than policy. If they fail they will be forced to leave. Policyless politicians. more like we elect the top civil servants and let statistical analysis of mandate statements set the policy.true democracy in which my wishes are directly taken into account explicitly. I think the picture that would emerge across the nation would be something very different from what politicians currently say is important and would reflect regional variations.crack pots and nut jobs would all say different things.only statistically significant issues would be assigned with resources. Just a thought!

  9. Rick says:

    Interesting. However you might notice in your story that 6 out of ten voters in your election didn’t get their first choice using either voting method.

    This voting system can have even worse implications because for example if the BNP were to get the majority of the minority, then by adding other minor party blocks to their vote they can actually come out on top of a main-stream party.

  10. matt says:

    “Interesting. However you might notice in your story that 6 out of ten voters in your election didn’t get their first choice using either voting method.”

    Yes, of course. No system can magically create an overall majority where there isn’t one.

    “This voting system can have even worse implications because for example if the BNP were to get the majority of the minority, then by adding other minor party blocks to their vote they can actually come out on top of a main-stream party.”

    That’s a very big “if”. If there are indeed more people who place the BNP above the candidate getting the most first-place votes, then yes, under AV they would be the legitimate winners. In practice, being an extremist party, the BNP are unlikely to get many second-place votes – people outside of the core BNP support are far more likely to leave them out of their rankings entirely to indicate “anyone but the BNP” – and that’s why the BNP are in the No camp.

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