Michael Gove recommends voting Lib Dem to thwart Labour
Conservative cabinet minister Michael Gove has said it would be "wise" for people to vote Liberal Democrat in some council seats to thwart Labour.
The education secretary, who smiled and winked after his comments, urged the electorate in Hull to follow his advice but to vote Conservative where they were "well-placed to defeat Labour".
Hull has a Lib Dem-led local authority, with Labour the main opposition group.
May's elections will be the first big test of the coalition.
Mr Gove's comments come amid suggestions from some senior figures that the Lib Dems and Conservatives could form a pact to fight the next general election.
The leaderships of both parties have said this is unlikely and stressed they are independent parties who are working together in a coalition at Westminster because it is in the national interest.
The remarks also come after criticism of the Conservative leadership's handling of the recent Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election.
Some Tories say efforts were muted in an attempt to help the Lib Dem candidate defeat Labour. But Labour retained the seat, with the Conservatives' share of the vote falling sharply.
Speaking in the Commons during a debate on the government's plans to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance for teenagers, Mr Gove defended the record of his party and the Lib Dems in local government.
He said: "In Hull, Liberal democrat-controlled Hull, any student in receipt of Education Maintenance Allowance also gets a travel grant to cope with the full cost.
"Well they won't if a Labour council takes power, I suspect. But if they're wise enough to vote Liberal Democrat at the next local elections in Hull, or for the Conservatives in any seat where we are well-placed to defeat Labour, then they will have a council that is fulfilling its statutory duty.
"And it's no surprise that there are Liberal Democrat and Conservative councils that are ensuring that all students receive the support that they deserve."
At a press conference last month, Prime Minister David Cameron said the "likelihood" was that the Conservatives and Lib Dems would remain ballot-box rivals, but suggested campaigns might be more "polite" in future.
Senior Tory MP Mark Pritchard has called for more "clarity" on the issue, arguing that many in the party are experiencing "confusion".