Peter Mandelson has intervened in the 'death tax' debate by calling David Cameron's alleged decision to cut off cross-party talks "contemptible".
It follows shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley's denial that he walked out of talks on reforming social care because the Conservative leader told him to.
Mr Lansley launched a 'death tax' poster campaign at Conservative party headquarters on Tuesday attacking the government's proposals to introduce a £20,000 inheritance tax to pay for Gordon Brown's enhanced domiciliary care proposals.
The move was a sudden shift away from behind-the-scenes cross-party talks with health secretary Andy Burnham and the Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb.
"While the shadow health secretary was prepared to talk about the options on elderly care that we need for the future, David Cameron could think only of political advantage," Lord Mandelson said.
"Clearly, David Cameron drove a wrecking ball through the consensus on care - not to help the older people of this country but to indulge in playground politics. It is cynical, short-sighted and contemptible behaviour."
At a briefing on Tuesday Mr Lansley said he had been "happy to work towards a consensus on social care" until Conservative "principles" were broken. In particular he objected to people being "forced" into having to pay the inheritance tax lump sum when they died.
"It's entirely up to me. I am in charge of this issue," he insisted on the Today programme this morning.
"What I had done was initiated discussion because the personal care at home bill was completely at odds with the wider structure of social care reform."
Mr Lansley said it was the Guardian's article on Tuesday, reporting that Mr Burnham was pressing for the Labour party to commit to a compulsory insurance approach costing up to £20,000, which motivated the sudden change of approach.
"Clearly, we needed to criticise that," he added, before admitting that he told Mr Cameron about the talks after he had held them.
"What has happened all the way through is that is that I have been willing and participating - and indeed initiated - an effort to try and secure consensus where we can," he said.
"But there is no point trying to force a consensus. Either it exists or it doesn't."
At stake is Gordon Brown's proposal to provide personalised care at home for around 250,000 elderly people with high levels of need.
Mr Lansley said all parties were agreed on the need for a more personalised system, but called Labour's plans to incorporate benefits into his proposed plans as a "seriously retrograde step".