Stalemate, crunch time and cookies crumbling

This is, as footballing pundits are fond of saying, a blog entry 'of two halves'. Uniting both halves, another theme pundits seem keen on - not sick parrots but tactics.

First half - tomorrow's vote on the Welsh government's spending plans.

Key statistic? Team Labour has 30 members; team opposition parties also have 30 members betwen them. Carwyn Jones, therefore, needs to win the support of one other party for his spending plans.

Tomorrow's debate on the draft budget - and the amendment laid by the opposition parties - is not crunch time for the government. The final budget will be laid on November 29th with the key vote happening on December 6th. By then the budget does need to gain majority support or it - and the government that drew it up - will fall.

Tomorrow is more about watching which way the cookie crumbles than real crunch time. If everyone turns up to vote - and neither Presiding Officer nor Deputy Presiding Officer vote - it'll be stalemate. The motion put forward by the government to 'note the draft budget' will fail, as will the amendment - the first truly sticky moment for a Labour First Minister who said from the outset that governing without a majority "is going to be tough" but "manageable".

At that point, talks - that the government emphasise today are ongoing - will really get going to ensure majority support by December 6th.

Labour AMs we've spoken to are pretty sanguine about tomorrow's mathematics. As one backbencher put it, it's seen as a return to the wrangling over the budget we've seen throughout most of the devolution years. This was about tactics, neither a real concern nor a real surprise to most - the opposition parties showing a united front to put pressure on Carwyn Jones to make 'minor changes they can point to and claim as their own'.

Certainly, researchers from the three opposition parties have been holed up today and working together, finalising the details, I'm told, of the cost implications of the various elements they want the government to include in the budget.

No one is sensing even the glimmer of a rainbow coalition forming, of the Tories, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats offering a single, credible alternative to the Labour government. What they are sensing are tactics from three parties who are, so far, holding the line and holding their nerve.

From Labour one line you suspect we'll hear more than once over the next few weeks: that Plaid, and in Assembly terms the Liberal Democrats, are playing a dangerous game in joining forces with the Tories. "They won't want a situation long-term where it looks like Farmer Davies is leading them by the nose" was how one source put it.

Opposition sources are holding firm. One said today that it is "radical surgery" that's needed, a significant shift from Carwyn Jones, who is showing no sign of "pulling any rabbits out of the hat".

Plaid Cymru say that, so far, Labour's response has been "insulting" and "incredible". It isn't about minor changes. It's about a significant package of measures and until Labour accept that, the talking will continue but go nowhere. They insist they have made their demands entirely clear. "What we want is no secret" said one source close to Ieuan Wyn Jones. I understand it has been spelled out in a letter sent to teh First Minister's office. A government source was equally determined that they are still waiting for Plaid to elaborate on what exactly it is they want.

Talks are continuing. The debate - and the vote - kick off tomorrow afternoon at 3 o'clock.

So to the other issue: the Welsh Labour executive's decision, over the weekend, to fight plans to cut the number of Welsh assembly constituencies to 30 to match new parliamentary ones. Their argument? That no changes should be rail-roaded through by the UK government. There must be a referendum so that the people of Wales decide on any changes. But that IF changes happens without their blessing, then Welsh Labour's preference would be for a 60-member assembly, comprising 30 two member seats.

It is, say Carwyn Jones and Peter Hain, about securing a voting system "that best serves the people of Wales". It is, say a large chorus of opposition parties, the Electoral Reform Society and others, about Labour wanting what is best for them.

One thoughtful Labour voice put it like this: it is about trying everything to fend off unnecessary changes to boundaries and messy battles to come. As for the extremely contentious first past the post element? That was simply "a footnote" that it was hoped - by some, though not all - would eventually go away.

Put simply? More tactical thinking - and no-one expects that to go away any time soon.