Gordon Brown has been accused of reducing the prospects of a "Lib-Lab deal" in the event of a hung parliament by "dithering" over plans to reform the first-past-the-post voting system.
The Prime Minister announced his conversion to the Australian-style alternative vote system last September but has stalled on bringing forward legislation calling a referendum on the issue soon after this year's general election.
Cabinet ministers who support the change are blaming Nick Brown, the Government's chief whip, for delaying the move on the grounds that Labour MPs are divided over electoral reform.
Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, will soon propose a referendum by tabling an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill before Parliament. But time is running out for it to become law before the election.
When the election is called, negotiations will take place between the political parties on which parts of outstanding legislation can be rushed into law. But the Tories oppose electoral reform and look certain to block the referendum while nodding through other aspects of the Bill – for example, on changes to MPs' expenses.
Although an incoming Tory government could cancel a referendum by passing new legislation, ministers believe the House of Lords would have rejected such a Bill.
They fear that the current delay may cost Labour the chance to secure a change to a fairer voting system that would have boosted its prospects of an early return to power if the Tories win this year's poll. They are also worried that the Liberal Democrats would be less likely to support Labour in a hung parliament.Reuse content