by Ray Fleming

T HE House of Commons yesterday voted by a majority of 42 not to proceed with Conservative proposals to reduce the Commons from 650 seats to 600 to save money and to implement changes in constituency borders to make all more or less equal in the number of their registered voters. This was a significant defeat for the government, the more so since the Liberal Democrats voted with Labour against the government of which it is a member. If the proposed boundary changes had been approved they would probably have given the Conservatives a possible election-winning extra 20 seats in 2015 . The LibDems broke ranks because last year the Conservatives refused to support the House of Lords reforms drawn up by Nick Clegg who says that the coalition agreement had tied the two reforms together, a view the Conservatives dispute.

The effect of yesterday's division could be profound. As ministers in the same government voted against each other the future of the coalition was once again put in doubt. At the 2015 election the Conservatives will probably again have difficulty in securing a working majority in the Commons and the LibDems may be more inclined if necessary to join Labour in a coalition. One consequence of this would be that Mr Cameron's master plan for settling the EU issue with a Yes/No referendum could fall at its first big hurdle.

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