In a marked change of tone, the prime minister joked to a meeting of MPs on Tuesday evening that they should lock up a Lib Dem MP in a loo to help defeat their coalition partners.
Cameron is bracing himself for a setback after the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, announced that his party would back a Labour amendment in the House of Lords on Monday to delay the plans to reduce the size of the Commons until after the 2015 election. If peers pass the Labour amendment the measure will be sent to the Commons for a vote. Clegg wants to punish the Tories after they blocked the reform of the House of Lords in the summer.
The Lib Dem move is a major blow to Cameron's hopes of securing an overall parliamentary majority at the next election. The reform, which would reduce the size of the Commons from 650 to 600 MPs by equalising the size of constituencies, could give the Tories a net gain of up to 20 seats.
The prime minister criticised the Lib Dems at the special meeting hosted by his political secretary and strategist Stephen Gilbert. "The Lib Dems have behaved atrociously," he is said to have told the meeting.
Cameron's tone is then said to have lightened, reportedly saying: "Does anyone know a DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] MP or a Green who can help? Lock up a Lib Dem in a loo on the night. But don't bank on it."
The prime minister's light hearted – though less than confident – tone contrasted with his declaration on Monday that he would press ahead with a vote in the House of Commons after the Lords vote. "Obviously it's to allow the Commons to decide whether the boundary changes should go ahead," he said at a Downing Street press conference. "That's the point of the vote in the Commons."
Cameron was also challenged at the meeting over his plans to legalise gay marriage. Former frontbencher Eleanor Laing said that she had voted for equalities legislation long before it was fashionable. But she added that she could not understand why the prime minister was alienating so many people over gay marriage.
The prime minister is said to have brushed off the criticism, saying that the legislation would be introduced soon. He added that it would be long forgotten by the time of the election.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © bisgovuk