Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has opened up a gulf in thinking with chancellor George Osborne by suggesting that retaining the UK's AAA credit rating is "not the be-all and end-all".
The interview with the BBC on Monday morning has prompted speculation either that Alexander and Osborne have different views on how to revive the economy, and the importance of the credit rating in that task, or that the government is beginning to massage expectations ahead of a possible downgrade.
George Osborne has repeatedly boasted that his economic policies have helped to retain the top rating for UK debt among international credit reference agencies, even after countries like the United States and many Eurozone countries have been downgraded over the past year.
Any downgrading of Britain's bonds would be politically damaging for Osborne, but there have been warning signs it could happen, after the UK's rating was placed on "negative outlook" by Moody's in February of this year. That said, another agency, Standard and Poor's, described the rating as "stable" last month, despite increasing worries about a default within the Eurozone and shock GDP figures last week which showed the UK economy shrank by 0.7% in the second quarter of 2012.
Alexander told the BBC on Monday morning: "What matters is have we got the right policy mix for the country to get people back into work, to support economic growth, to deal with the huge problems in our public finances and the credit agencies reflect on those things and the ratings they give are a reflection of the credibility of that mix."
Only last week George Osborne told The Telegraph: "The deficit has fallen by a quarter; inflation has fallen by half; employment is rising, with British businesses creating over 800,000 new jobs; and the economy is rebalancing, with Britain now exporting more to the rest of the world than Europe.
"And as S&P themselves say, what would damage Britain's creditworthiness would be relaxing our resolve to deal with our debts. We won't do that."
Although tax revenues have been higher than expected this year and unemployment has fallen, some Whitehall insiders expect the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, due in November, to reveal that the UK's deficit reduction plan is once again off-track and that the independent Office for Budget Responsibility's growth forecasts were woefully optimistic.
Alexander's comments are viewed by some as a nudge to Osborne to stop obsessing about the credit rating and think about adopting a "Plan A+" approach to the economic recovery, possibly geared towards greater stimulus and a slowing down of spending squeezes.
The coalition will never talk about Plan B, but the Lib Dems, particularly Vince Cable, have talked a lot about "Plan A+", which has been dubbed in some quarters "Plan V" in recent days. Cable said last week: " I quite like plan A+, which is accepting that we have the necessity of budget discipline.
"But that has to be augmented by growth policies including the industrial strategy approach we are developing in this department, including a very aggressive monetary policy, which the Bank of England is continuing to pursue, and pursuing flexibility in the way we apply our fiscal rules, which the chancellor has certainly done."
Amid calls for George Osborne to be replaced as Chancellor, Vince Cable has insisted that he thinks Osborne is doing a decent job. Cable dismissed calls by Lib Dems for him to be moved from the BIS department to the Treasury - something which was always a flight of fancy, anyway.