TACTICAL alliances between ideological foes are the stuff of politics, democratic or otherwise. The Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood's (ADPL) decision to hand the vice-chairmanship of the Urban Council to the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) should not, therefore, come as a great surprise to the Democratic Party, its main rival in the liberal camp. Neither should it come as a shock that, in the Regional Council, the Democratic Party itself made a deal with its arch-rivals in the rural camp to support Daniel Lam Wai-keung for chairman in return for a vice-chairmanship which would otherwise have gone to the DAB's Ngan Kam-chuen. Politics is a rough business, and minority parties have to play rough to make a mark. An ADPL alliance with the Democrats, though logical in purely philosophical terms, makes little sense if the ADPL hopes to survive as an independent party with its own agenda. The Democratic Party was not prepared to guarantee its support for the ADPL's candidate for the Urban Council in September's Legislative Council poll. The smaller party's revenge was to show the Democratic Party it cannot set the agenda without minority support. It remains to be seen whether the DAB will be grateful enough to lend its support to the ADPL candidate in September; but since the alternative would be to hand the seat to the Democrats, that is the likely quid pro quo. Nevertheless, party politics is such a new game in Hong Kong that the public may well be surprised at the politicians' cynicism. Just as sometimes it happens in more mature democracies, voters may be sufficiently sickened by the democratic camp's manoeuvring and deal-cutting to withhold their support come September. People who voted the Democratic Party onto Regco and the ADPL onto Urbco chose them because for their policies and principles, not their pragmatism. That will not make much difference to the municipal council candidates. These are, after all, the two smallest functional constituencies and the winners will be co-opted by their fellow councillors alone. However, it may have some effect on voting in the geographical constituencies. The wheeler-dealers may care to remember how little Elsie Tu was helped by her tactical alliance with the DAB in last month's Urban Council election. In the event, she was unable to fend off the challenge from Democrat Szeto Wah. Alliances made in smoke-filled rooms are going to be part of the Hong Kong political scene for the foreseeable future, just as they are in parliamentary democracies the world over. There are those who would say that is what party politics are all about. But they should not make the mistake of thinking the public does not care.