LONDON Business Secretary Vince Cable has said it is "possible" that the coalition between his Liberal Democrats and Prime Minister David Cameron's centre-right Conservatives could break up before the next election in 2015.
There has been no hint that Lib Dem party leader Nick Clegg shares Cable's view, and Cable said there was no discussion yet within the party about the issue.
Instead, Cable's comments at his party's annual conference in Glasgow, Scotland, combined with fierce criticism of the Conservatives, were seen by some as a bid to win over those on the left of his party to a potential coalition with centre-left Labour after 2015.
Asked at a conference meeting late on Monday whether an early coalition break-up was possible, Cable said it was "certainly possible", adding: "We are not at the stage of talking about that process. It is obviously a very sensitive one. It has got to be led by the leader."
Some of Cable's supporters hope he could replace Clegg as Liberal Democrat leader and move the party further left, into coalition with Labour, if the 2015 election is inconclusive.
With an election due in May 2015, polls again suggest that no party may gain an outright majority and another coalition government - rare in Britain's history - is possible.
A YouGov poll in the Sun newspaper put Labour on 37 percent, the Conservatives on 34 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 10 percent.
Tensions between the Liberal Democrats and the much larger centre-right Conservatives have surfaced periodically since they joined forces in 2010, with hardliners in both parties barely able to contain their mutual disdain.
But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Cameron have always played down their differences and insisted the coalition must stay the course for the sake of Britain's economic recovery.
The coalition set itself the task of rebuilding the economy after the financial crisis. It has survived arguments over austerity, taxation, Britain's place in the European Union and planned reforms of electoral boundaries and the upper chamber of parliament, the House of Lords.
On Monday, Cable pouring scorn on the Conservatives' "ugly politics" and called them the "nasty party" in language more akin to that used by the opposition Labour Party.
Liberal Democrat Treasury Minister Danny Alexander, seen as close to Clegg, told ITV television on Tuesday: "We are going to stay in the coalition government right up until the election in 2015."
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)