Michael Howard interviewed in The Times today said of the general election result last year:
"It was in many respects a lot closer than the result in seats suggests. The percentage difference was quite small. We got more votes than Labour did in England. I don’t want to go on about what might have been, but one of the lesser-known statistics is that if 14,500 people in the seats that give Labour its majority had changed their vote, we’d have been a hung parliament."
Of course you would never expect him to utter the words "fair votes" but the Conservatives' love affair with first past the post is not doing them any favours. Indeed the whole Tory relationship with the voting system is like an affair in which one partner has been abused by the other for the past decade, is in denial about it but is hoping the relationship will improve in years to come. A marriage made in Tory Heaven. Not a pleasant thought.
Nevertheless, the mention of "hung parliament" could be seen as an admission that the Conservatives feel they can't win an election outright. After all, one look at the electoral arithmetic and reality comes flooding back. They only have to gain 130 seats to scrape in with a bare majority. And with the Conservatives still below 40% in most polls (see July's polls below) they ain't anywhere near the swing they need to win outright.
The reality on the Labour side is that they are sitting on a very precarious majority. A lead of 66 in the Commons would have been convincing for governments before the landslides of the late twentieth century. But the 33 seats that make up the majority each have small majorities. Are we about to enter an period in which no party can win a majority under FPTP?
Publisher date published polling organisation Con Lab LD
MoS 9/7 BPIX 41 31 15
Times 11/7 Populus 36 34 19
Guardian 27/7 ICM 39 35 17
Telegraph 28/7 YouGov 38 33 18
Financial Times 31/7 Ipsos MORI 36 32 24
Telegraph 28 July 2006: “David Cameron has completed his first parliamentary session as Conservative leader with a lead over Labour, but with signs that his personal popularity with the voters is cooling.”