Nick Clegg is ready to ignore his own party if it votes to kill off the Government's controversial NHS reforms at a policy-making conference next week.
The Deputy Prime Minister is hopeful that the Liberal Democrats' spring conference in Gateshead will stop short of calling for the Health and Social Care Bill to be abandoned after he won last-minute concessions from David Cameron.
Although rebel Liberal Democrat activists will table an emergency motion on the Bill, Mr Clegg believes the centre of gravity in his party will be in favour of allowing the amended Bill to pass because the safeguards will prevent the "back door privatisation" of the NHS.
But he suffered a setback yesterday when Graham Winyard, the former deputy Chief Medical Officer, resigned from the party in protest at the leadership's backing for the Bill. Dr Winyard, who was chairman of Winchester Liberal Democrats until last year, told Mr Clegg in a letter: "It is just not sensible to impose this top-down reorganisation on an NHS struggling to meet the biggest financial challenge in its history. To continue to do so in the face of near unanimous opposition from patient, staff and professional organisations simply invites slow motion disaster both for the NHS and for the party." He said that he had no option but to resign "with great sadness".
Activists will table a motion calling for the "deeply flawed" measure to be "withdrawn or defeated" on the grounds that it cannot be made "fit for purpose". But Clegg allies said there are still "several hoops" before a rebel motion is passed. Members attending the Gateshead conference will decide next Saturday which subject to discuss as an emergency.
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