Simmering concern among Conservative MPs about the Coalition Government's direction boiled over yesterday as David Cameron was accused of making too many policy concessions to the Liberal Democrats.
Tory backbenchers vented their anger at Prime Minister's Questions amid concerns that Nick Clegg has forced Mr Cameron to water down policies on Europe, free schools, tax cuts, human rights, NHS reforms, elected police commissioners and abortion.
Yesterday a Tory-led move to tighten the abortion laws was rejected by the Commons after Mr Clegg had prevented the Government from backing it. MPs voted 368-118 against a ban on women seeking an abortion receiving counselling from organisations that carry out terminations.
Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP who proposed an amendment to the Bill, accused Mr Cameron of giving in to Liberal Democrat "blackmail" over abortion. She told the Commons that the Prime Minister was initially "very encouraging" about her move but was then placed in an "impossible position" by the Liberal Democrats. She asked him to show Mr Clegg "who is the boss". Mr Cameron replied that he knew Ms Dorries was "extremely frustrated", provoking laughter in the Commons. He sat down amid the uproar, saying he had to "give up" on answering.
Ms Dorries was not amused and Labour accused Mr Cameron of being patronising towards women. Angela Eagle, a Shadow Cabinet member, said: "I thought that little comment about Nadine Dorries... was really nasty, premeditated and totally uncalled for."
One Tory MP added: "The Prime Minister's behaviour was despicable. It was the worst of the Bullingdon [Club]. It was a total demolition of Nadine Dorries on a personal basis."
Ms Dorries took comfort from a pledge by Anne Milton, a Health minister, to launch a consultation exercise on counselling for women considering an abortion. Ms Milton said the Government was "supportive of the spirit of the amendment" and would bring forward proposals for regulations.
Mr Clegg and Ed Miliband voted against the move, while Mr Cameron did not vote. Tory MP Mark Reckless said: "The Prime Minister has listened to Liberal Democrat colleagues by delaying police [commissioner] elections until November next year. Will he now listen to Conservative colleagues and take the opportunity to hold a referendum on Europe?"
Mr Cameron replied: "I want us to be influential in Europe about the things that matter to our national interest... but I do not see the case for an in/out referendum on Europe." His aides denied that the Liberal Democrat tail was wagging the Coalition dog.