Government facing defeat over boundary changes

"From the prime minister's perspective," said the Downing Street spokesman, "the arithmetic looks pretty difficult."

In other words, unless something dramatic happens overnight to change that arithmetic, the government, or at least the Conservative half of it, is going to lose tomorrow's vote on parliamentary boundaries.

The Conservatives want to overturn a Lords vote to delay a reduction in the number of MPs until 2018 - i.e. until after the next general election. The reduction - designed to ensure each MP represents roughly the same number of constituents, would mean the number of UK MPs falling from 650 to 600. In Wales, where constituencies tend to have fewer voters, the number of parliamentary seats would fall from 40 to 30.

The government's majority has disappeared because the Liberal Democrats - who once supported the proposals - have decided to vote against them in retaliation for the Tories blocking House of Lords reform.

There has been talk of an "unholy alliance" of the Conservatives and minor party MPs but even then the arithmetic still looks "difficult". And most analyses that conclude the result will be close appear to be based on the assumption that Tory MPs will support the government.

That is not an assumption the government is making. Montgomeryshire MP Glyn Davies has already announced that he's unlikely to support the boundary changes. He is not alone. As I understand it, at least two other Welsh Tory MPs have serious doubts about the plans, which may or may not be related to the impact of the boundary commission's proposed map of Wales.

So why is the Conservative arm of the government going ahead with the vote in the face of almost certain defeat? Ministers say cutting the cost of politics was a manifesto commitment and they want to be able to show voters that they tried to deliver a smaller House of Commons.

It may then be unfortunate timing that today's Daily Mail reports that the coalition will create up to 50 new peers this week - a report that has not been denied by No 10. The list of peers will be interesting (Lord Nick Bourne of Senedd?) but the cost of politics may be about to go up, not down.