Westcountry Liberal Democrats have led a wave of opposition to public sector workers being put on "local" pay causing a split in the coalition Government.
Delegates at the party conference in Brighton yesterday backed a motion to rule out "any further expansion in regional or local pay".
Critics warn ending uniform, national rates for teachers, nurses and other state workers will push pay down in low-wage Devon and Cornwall – though proponents argue it will help private sector firms recruit.
Former Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey, Lib Dem MP for North Devon, told delegates from the lectern that Tory Chancellor George Osborne's proposals risked "shafting the poor areas".
"The problem we have in rural areas is we have the toxic combination of very low pay and very high living costs," he said, adding that the party should "make it clear to our colleagues in the coalition that up with this we will not put".
Charles Boney, chairman of South East Cornwall Lib Dems, which tabled the motion, took aim at Prime Minister David Cameron, who spends summers in the county.
He said: "Have you ever thought about how that restaurant that you or (Cameron) might have gone to in Polzeath copes in the winter? They are struggling to survive, and in many cases they only keep going in winter months with the help of some decent public sector jobs keeping demand just above the break-even point. Regional pay would push some businesses below the line. And they wouldn't be there for the photocall in August."
Phil Hutty, from Central Devon, said the move had "dire consequences" for the Westcountry and Cornwall councillor Edwina Hannaford, from South East Cornwall, said it was "unfair, unworkable and unwanted". She said: "Not only do we suffer below national wage levels, we have above national costs for housing, water and fuel. Regional pay will lock in and institutionalise the problem, and do nothing to solve it."