A plan for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to encourage anti-Labour tactical voting at the next General Election is being discussed privately by Tory Cabinet ministers.
Although David Cameron and Nick Clegg insist the two coalition parties will fight the election as separate parties, some Tory ministers want their party to soft pedal in the seats held by the Liberal Democrats.
The move could throw a lifeline to the 57 Liberal Democrat MPs, including Mr Clegg, who may come under pressure in his Sheffield Hallam constituency after his marked U-turn over university tuition fees.
Ministers believe a formal electoral pact in which the Tories and Liberal Democrats stand down to give each other a clear run in some seats is unlikely, as it would run into strong opposition from local party activists.
However, they think this month's by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth shows that an informal pact may work to the advantage of both parties.
The Tories ran a low-key campaign and many of supporters switched to the Liberal Democrats, ensuring Mr Clegg's party came second behind Labour and avoided a humiliating third place.