Ralph is elected leader because he happens to be the one who blows the conch shell first, not because he has any innate leadership ability. In fact, he’s a terrible leader. He is disinterested half the time and desperate the rest of the time. While he wants to be a good leader, he has no idea how to go about it. The only kid on that island who has any idea what to do is Piggy, and no one listens to him. Jack and Ralph are constantly vying for authority, so what you have is a three way argument between Ralph, Jack, and Piggy, with Piggy being ignored.
The one thing that everyone seems to be in agreement on is that rules are needed. Jack declares, arrogantly:
“I agree with Ralph. We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything. So we’ve got to do the right things.” (Ch. 2)
Ralph decides that it is time to set down rules of order. As he notes, there are no adults around, so they will need to look out for themselves. One of the most important rules is that the group has elected him leader, so he gets to run the meetings. The meetings need to run efficiently, so he decides to institute some rules of order.
And another thing. We can’t have everybody talking at once. We’ll have to have ’Hands up’ like at school.”
“Then I’ll give him the conch.” (Ch. 2)
The conch shell is a good choice for taking speaking turns, because it is already a symbol of power. It is infused with symbolism because it led everyone to Ralph when he blew it. It is the reason that they chose him as their leader. He knows this, and wants to keep his power.
Ralph’s other goal is to start a fire. He wants to keep a signal going. They use Piggy’s glasses, and while the first fire is somewhat disastrous (it gets out of control and burns down half the island), they do get a fire going. He decides, “We’ve got to have special people for looking after the fire.” (Ch. 2) They will also keep a lookout for ships.
Ralph’s struggle for authority with Jack is an ongoing one, one that no amount of rule-making can fix. When Jack volunteers his hunters to watch the fire, it seems like a good solution. Unfortunately, they decide to go off and get a pig. The results are devastating and lead conflict between Ralph and Jack.
“There was a ship. Out there. You said you’d keep the fire going and you let it out!” He took a step toward Jack, who turned and faced him. (Ch. 4)
Ralph thinks that Jack was not doing his job, and defying Ralph’s authority, and risking their chance to go home if a ship is sighted. This strains the boys’ friendship, little as there may be, and eventually leads to a schism that splits the group.
Not a natural leader, Ralph’s ties to civilization cannot compete with Jack’s savage ways. Ralph makes rules about where the bathroom facilities should be (on the rocks so it washes off), and Jack makes chants about killing pigs and uses war paint. Ralph represents the world they came from. Jack represents savagery.