Ed Miliband has pledged to campaign against Nick Clegg in the 2015 general election – a move unlikely to help him in the event of a hung parliament.
The Labour leader, launching his party's election general election campaign four months before the May 7th vote, was put on the spot by a Labour activist from Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency at the end of a question-and-answer session.
Asked whether he could help Labour's bid to remove the deputy prime minister from parliament altogether, Miliband said: "Sheffield is very close to my constituency of Doncaster so I'm sure I can find the time to come."
Miliband's comments could undermine his chances of working with Clegg. The pair have tried hard to improve their cooperation in the last two years but many fear the insults of the general election campaign could hamper efforts to secure a working arrangement after 2015.
Clegg won his seat in 2010 with a majority of over 15,000 but the Lib Dems lost control of Sheffield after entering national government and polling by Lord Ashcroft in November last year put the party leader just three points ahead of Labour – and then only when voters were prompted to think about their own constituency.
A strong Lib Dem defence of the party's seats is expected to limit the damage of five years in coalition, giving Clegg a strong change of repeating the 'kingmaker' role he played in 2010.
The alternative – a Conservative minority government – could lead to a second election in 2015, which would be disastrous for Labour because it is not expected to have sufficient funds to pay for two campaigns in one year.