By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, is a rebellious, Coalition-unfriendly backbencher with a particular animosity toward the government on NHS matters. Earlier on in the summer, he launched this attack on the Conservatives:
"I'm afraid we can't trust the Tories with the NHS. They brazenly ignored the Coalition Agreement before the ink was even dry. Tory promises on the NHS should be issued with a 'health warning'"
Today, he has challenged the Prime Minister to a public debate on the government's planned NHS reforms.
"The MP is due to hold a public meeting in Penzance on Wednesday to debate the Bill and wants Mr Cameron to attend to thrash out the argument. Mr George said: "We both signed up to a Coalition Agreement which promised to stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that had got in the way of patient care. But this is the biggest reorganisation since the NHS was created. Leading clinician bodies have called for the Bill to be scrapped."
Mr George also offered a debate to Andrew Lansley:
"I have repeatedly invited the Secretary of State – Andrew Lansley – to either come himself or to send a representative to my public meeting to defend the Government's proposals, but I have received nothing."
Finally, Mr George implies Conservative MPs who vote for the NHS reforms don't "care about the NHS":
"This is not what we signed up for in the Coalition Agreement. I will be urging my Liberal Democrat colleagues – and those Conservatives who really care about the NHS – to oppose the Bill when we debate it in the Commons in a couple of weeks' time."
I'm not aware of a serious previous proposal by a backbencher to debate with the Prime Minister – especially not when that backbencher is part of the Coalition the Prime Minister leads. One wonders what anti-Tory antics Mr George will deem appropriate next.
Wednesday Update: Mr George has posted a note on his website, attacking the government for not sending a representative to debate with him:
"Local MP, Andrew George, has confirmed that everything is ready and prepared for a big public debate this evening on the future of the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill which will commence its final debate in the House of Commons this time next week. … However, in spite of early invitations to the Health Secretary, Rt. Hon Andrew Lansley MP, the Government will not be sending any spokesperson to defend the Health Bill. Mr George will circulate a copy of a most recent letter he has received from the Health Secretary defending the Government’s plans. Mr George also invited the Prime Minister to the meeting after his remarks last week which disagreed with Mr George, when Mr Cameron claimed that “the whole health profession is on board”. Mr George said, “It is a great pity that the Government will not send anyone to defend its policy. There are very few, if any, other public debates on the Bill at this moment. I would have thought that someone could be found. I have contacted local Conservatives to invite them to join me on the platform if they wish.”"