Leading article: It is time the dirty tricks ended

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No wonder the public don't trust politicians. At the last election Labour was the only party to back the alternative voting system known as AV. Today it is the only party working to block the extremely modest step towards greater electoral fairness. Filibustering Labour peers are staying up all night to talk so much about the details of the bill that it runs out of parliamentary time. So far they have discussed only 12 of 52 amendments. If a referendum on AV is to take place with the local elections on 5 May, as planned, the bill must receive the Royal Assent by 16 February.

What has angered Labour Lords is that the Coalition Government has linked the AV referendum to one on reform of constituency boundaries which Labour claims has been gerrymandered to favour the Tories. The choice between gerrymandering and filibustering – the dirty tricks tactics of party politics – does not reflect well on any of the occupants of our Parliament. Linking the two proposals was one of the key compromises at the heart of the Coalition's founding agreement: the Tories want boundary reform and the Liberal Democrats want electoral reform. Linking the two issues was an element of the Coalition negotiations. All sides need to back down here. The Coalition should agree to separate the two halves of the bill. That would allow proper time for analysis and discussion of the boundary reform but it would also enable the swift passage of the referendum on AV.

But Labour needs to be more honest about its position. Its leader Ed Miliband has said he will support AV but around half his 253 MPs disagree. At present those who oppose a fairer voting system can hide behind their indignation over it being tied to the contentious constituency reform. Removing that excuse will expose the paucity of their position.

AV, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, is the smallest possible step towards a fairer voting system. This newspaper believes far more radical proportional representation is needed in this country. But there can be no excuse for our politicians failing to allow the people to express their view on this first step in that direction. Politicians must let the people decide.