Liberal Democrat party members dealt a further blow to party leader Nick Clegg this weekend by failing to back the coalition Government’s concessions on the Health and Social Care Bill.
Activists at the party’s conference in Gateshead voted to reject a motion from Lib Dem peer Baroness Williams expressing support for the concessions by 314 votes to 270.
The conference backed away from open opposition to the health bill and the decision is not binding on Lib Dem MPs, but the grassroots vote will complicate the position of the Parliamentary party.
Dr Charles West, a GP in Shrewsbury and the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for the area – whose own emergency motion calling for the bill to be scrapped was rejected for debate – said it could ‘empower’ Lib Dem MPs and peers to reject the health bill completely.
In his keynote speech to party members, Mr Clegg admitted the health reforms were ‘controversial’ but insisted that the end result had proven the ‘value of coalition’.
The deputy Prime Minister told delegates: ‘The health bill was stopped in its tracks and rewritten because this is a coalition Government. Competition will be the servant of health care, not the master because this is a coalition government.’
‘This is a bill for patients not profits. It is not a Liberal Democrat health bill but it is a better bill because of the Liberal Democrats.’