A group of Liberal Democrat MPs yesterday defied the party whip and sided with Labour to oppose the Government's Health Bill in the House of Commons.
Rebel leader Andrew George was one of five Liberal Democrats who called for the legislation to be dropped, but they were defeated by 314 votes to 260. The rebellion came as the Government gave the cold shoulder to attempts by the Royal College of GPs to re-engage with ministers over the future of the health reforms.
Asked if they were prepared to work with the RCGP following a letter by the College's chair Clare Gerada offering to "find a way through the tensions", the Prime Minister's spokeswoman said pointedly they still appeared to oppose the bill. A Lib Dem source dismissed the Commons rebellion as "the usual suspects".
But the rebellion by the five MPs is still embarrassing coming on the back of its conference vote not to tell the party's peers in the House of Lords to support the bill. In an ill-tempered opposition debate on the future of the Health Bill in the House of Commons Andy Burnham, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, said: "We need to be honest with ourselves it is now just political pride driving this Bill to the Statute Book."
Mr Burnham said in an attempt not to be partisan he would be urging Labour MPs to support a rebel Lib Dem amendment which calls for the bill to be dropped and an "urgent summit of the Royal Colleges, professional bodies, and patients' organisations to plan health reforms based on the Coalition Agreement". Mr Lansley rejected this and attacked Mr Burnham for questioning his loyalty to the NHS. "I deeply resent any implication I do not care about the National Health Service," he said.
He went on to press Mr Burnham to explain which areas of the bill he opposed. "[It is] opposition for its own sake," he claimed. "Distortions dressed up as arguments. It's a shameful campaign to scare people about a Bill which is strengthening the NHS."