Labour challenge

Should the leader of the political party with the largest number of seats at Westminster be entitled to form the government? The polls this year from Lord Ashcroft seem to have put Labour into a defeatist mode (your report, 6 March).

No longer is there talk about what a reforming majority government might do. It is all about ensuring that Ed Miliband, Jim Murphy and their colleagues get the most seats, and might at least form a minority administration.

In support of this they cite what has happened in each election since the Second World War. But there are two interesting qualifications to this approach.

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In 2010 Labour had its worst electoral performance for more than 90 years, and was well behind the Conservatives in seats won. Yet its then leader Gordon Brown and his colleagues tried to pull out all the stops to remain in office.

In the end discussions about coalition or partnership with the Lib Dems proved fruitless. There was nevertheless at least a theoretical chance that they might have been successful; Mr Brown or another Labour leader could have led an admittedly fragile rainbow coalition.

In the first general election of 1974 the then Conservative prime minister Edward Heath lost an overall majority and was behind Labour narrowly in number of seats.

He nevertheless entered into talks with the then Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe about some kind of deal to keep Labour out. Again this was unsuccessful but there is still a chance that it might have worked.

It would have worked on the basis that a political leader was confident he could secure a majority in the House of Commons, but was not necessarily the leader of the largest party.

That appears to me the correct constitutional position. It is that ability to secure an overall majority that will count in the end and not which party has the biggest head count.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court