Could winning the popular vote be Michael Howardâ€™s consolation prize?
If the poll trends stay where they are at the moment then it is possible that the post-election political environment will be dominated by whether Labour supporters turnout in the 450-500 seats where their vote wonâ€™t make a difference.
Quite simply if enough Labour supporters stay away from the polls in these seats then the party could be second to the Tories in terms of overall votes even though it would have a reasonable majority in terms of seats.
This voting pattern happened on a huge scale last time. Labour successfully held onto its vote in the marginals it was defending but the overall big drop in its margin was because supporters elsewhere did not turnout. Thus the actual voting saw Labour with a national lead in the popular vote down by a quarter while on the basis of the seats it held and won it looked as though there had been no swing at all.
The seats where Labour turnout could be right down are those in its heartlands, existing Tory seats and in constituencies where the battle is between the Lib Dems and the Tories where there could be a degree of tactical voting. The Tories do not suffer from the same problem and are likely to see reasonably good turnout levels in their strongholds
From a strategic standpoint it makes absolute sense for the Labour effort to be focussed on the potential swing seats. But if Labourâ€™s vote does not hold up in the â€œotherâ€ seats it could have a huge impact on the national popular vote totals with the real possibility that Tony Blair could be returned with a reasonable majority but be second place on vote to Michael Howard’s Tories.
- If Labour win on seats but are second in the popular vote it could raise the issue of whether the victory was legitimate and you can envisage huge problems for the incoming Government with the House of Lords
In 1951 Clem Atleeâ€™s post-war Government was beaten by the Tories even though it got a few hundred thousand votes more. But then the third party element was almost minimal and both parties were in the very high 40s in terms of vote shares. This time the vote shares of both main parties could be in the low 30s and questions of legitimacy would be easier to raise.
We expect that some betting markets on the popular vote will be opened quite soon and it might be that a Tory win bet here offers good value.