Monday, August 09, 2010

Anne Milton Was Right

Imagine it. You're a junior minister and get a letter from the Prime Minister reinforcing his view that reducing the deficit is the number one issue facing the government, and urging you to find as many savings as you possibly can in the area of policy that you administer. But when you find a saving of £50 million and write to your Scottish counterpart urging them to follow your lead, all hell breaks loose because you suggest withdrawing free school milk from the under 5s. Your rationale is that it costs £50 million and it's of unproven benefit.

But instead of standing by you, or at least merely saying that no final decision has been made, Number Ten throws you to the wolves and performs the fastest U turn in history. And this from an administration that prides itself, according to the PM's letter, in thinking "for the long term".

Yesterday, David Cameron wrote this in the Sunday Times...
"The truth is there will be some things that we genuinely value that will have to go because of the legacy we have been left."

Clearly school milk doesn't fall under that category. It ought to.

I was 8 years old when Mrs Thatcher abolished school milk for the over sevens. I hated the stuff so I was profoundly grateful. I suspect that like many children today I refused to drink it. It was very low quality milk and quite often had been left out in the sun. A cursory survey of the two people I know who run nurseries proves my point. At least half the milk goes to waste, they told me.

And to be honest, should the state actually be seeking to replace the role of the parent here. Surely it is up to parents to ensure their children eat and drink the right things? If I was spending £50 million I might think it would be better spent on a bit of targeted health education.

And just by way of pointing out a few facts, those who accuse the Tories of delighting in withdrawing things like school milk, should remember that it was Labour in 1968 who withdrew school milk for 11-16 year olds. Over to John Redwood, who has done a little research...

What we need to do is a little detective work. The biggest “milk snatchers” were Labour. In 1968 they took free school milk away from all 11 to 18 year olds. The Conservatives did not dub Harold Wilson a milk thief, but accepted this economy as part of the package to cut the excessive borrowing of that Labour government. No subsequent government, including the Labour governments of 1997 to 2010 thought free school milk worth reintroducing. Most people cannot remember that Edward Short was Education Secretary for most of 1968 (I looked it up)when the free milk was withdrawn, because no-one ran a campaign claiming he left us short of free milk.

In 1971 Edward Heath’s government took milk away from 7 to 11 year olds. This was opposed by Labour, who personalised it to the Education Secretary. Labour have always treated Mrs Thatcher in a mean and personal way. They dubbed her “Milk snatcher” rather than coming up with a phrase like “Edward Heath, milk thief”. Doubtless if the Education Secretary in the 1979-1990 governments had cut free school milk they would still have personalised it to Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister.

The BBC website tells us free milk for 5, 6 and 7 year olds had gone “by 1980″ without telling us which Minister removed it. Nor did they name the Labour Ministers responsible in 1968 for the main cut. There’s bias for you, after the account of how Margaret Thatcher had done her bit to cut it. People were so untroubled by the removal of free milk for 5-7 year olds that few can remember who did it.

Labour in office did not restore milk to primary school children, despite finding money for everything else, and despite still reminding people from time to time of their “Milk snatcher” jibe.

It is high time we moved on from these lurid lies and silly soundbites. The truth is all three parties in power from 1968-2010 went along with the phased removal of free milk in schools. Presumably they did so because they recognised there were better ways of helping children from low income families with dietary needs. I am prepared to say I support the results of both Harold Wilson and Edward Heath’s decision to remove free school milk as an economy measure, though I disagreed with many of the things both these Prime Ministers did in other fields. Any truthful politician should say the same, as no mainstream politician in living memory has campaigned to restore these “brutal cuts” from a long-gone era.

I'll be on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 at midday discussing this.

UPDATE: Jonathan Sheppard agrees. And he also wonders how on earth this scheme can cost £50 million, which buys 186 million pints!


James said...

Fully agree. I have also blogged on this.

James Bloodworth said...

The benefits of milk to children are well know. Merely the fact that milk is high protein is of unarguable benefit to growing children.

Forging an argument along the lines of "but Labour took away milk as well" is not an argument for taking away free milk.

If this really was about saving money and not about ideology the government would have shown greater concern with taking away the susbsidies lavished upon faith schools rather than snatching away one of the few sources of protein for poorer children.

Weygand said...

What you say is true but irrelevant.

The media storm, hypocritical and opportunistic though it would have been, would have dominated the cuts debate and made it impossible to carry out much more important savings elsewhere (and undermined the coalition).

DC is absolutely right.

Anonymous said...

Iain, she may have been right in following the flavour of Camroon's (Indian Spelling) culture of budget reduction but naieve in implementing the preparation.

Maybe she was born before the Thatcher Milk Years but the slogan Milk Snatcher is like a retro virus, lurking in the body politic waiting for an opportunity to re-emerge.

Her episode will be known as the Milk Shake and if she doesn't learn quickly, it could be her epitaph.

Roger Thornhill said...

I used to really enjoy the milk, in fact I was allowed to have a second 1/3rd pint in the afternoon if there were any left (almost always were).

4L costs £2.50, so 20+ 1/3rds, lets say 10p each.

10p per kid per day. 150 school days. £15 per kid per year.

£50m? Do we have 3m kids in some form of early education? No, more like 1.2m.

£50m/1.2m = £40 per year, almost triple the supermarket price.

Surely something wrong with my numbers, no?

The Purpleline said...

Cameron and the coalition are in danger of being a Government by the media.

Milk should be scrapped and replaced by Water far more beneficial. In fact I am campaigning for Water to be allowed in every classroom as we know the Brain functions better when the body is not dehydrated.

lilith said...

Free school milk was great but only in the winter when it was cold. The little bottles were so cute. So many kids hated it I used to get to drink at least three bottles of it.

However, cows milk is a food designed to increase the size of a huge young mammal very fast. It isn't designed for humans. Most of us lose the enzymes required to digest it properly by the time we are 18, even if we had them in the first place (the Chinese in general don't have the digestive enzyme).

Then there is the concern that milk is linked to increased susceptibility to ovarian and prostate cancer...perhaps we shouldn't be handing out something for "free" to kids that, in time and with scientific advancement, will sue us for giving them cancer.

Unknown said...

Anne Milton was right, but the way BBC Breakfast was pilling into the story early on Sunday morning you can see why number 10 acted as they did.
BBC news while acknowledging that cuts should be made seems to be jumping on every cut the Government proposes and turning it into a political issue rather than an economic one.
It is about time the BBC was brought down to size starting with this ridiculous new billion pound development in the north west.

Dominic said...

School milk was...horrid. The low point of every morning at infant school.

But when exactly was it abolished for 5-7 year olds? We still had in (in LB Barking & Dag) as late as 1982

Anonymous said...

Nope - I do not 'fully agree'

Look back to history. A minister, a junior minister would have to be stark staring bonkers and thick as a pillock to leap in with both feet and shouting 'Geronimo' as well to announce the cutting of free school milk - without first asking a few quite questions.

Any minister with the total lack of political history and political nouse that would dive in like this does not, quite frankly, deserve to be a minister.

£50 million - if I had been labour I would have been able to point to any number of civil service perks left untouched that could have covered this cost.

Its called 'politics'.

ginsingian said...

Milk has nutritional benefits there is no doubt, and yes good patents should make sure there offspring have a balanced diet. Now wake up get out to some of the schools in some of the deprived areas of northern Britain and tell me some of these kids don't need extra help and a small safety net. No doubt you have nice organic milk on your swiss muesli in a morning.

Ian M said...

It is a topic which merits further investigation and discussions but why did she write to her Scottish Counterpart ?
a) Its none of her business. The matter is covered by the Devolution Settlement and as such a matter for the Scottish people through their elected representatives
b) As it is an SNP controlled Government, she should know that any such correspondence willbe leaked to the Press

Weygand said...

PS I'm sure DC will love you going on the David Vine show to give extra legs to a story which he had hoped to put an end to.

The agenda of the BBC is clearly that "we cannot get the Tories for what they have done but we can for what they thought of doing".

Whatever you say it will be music to the ears of opponents to the coalition.

Why not attack the proposed graduate tax instead. This is a policy which is actually on the table and quite idiotic.

Iain Dale said...

Weygand, strangely, pleasing David Cameron when deciding what media I do have never been uppermost in my mind, contrary to popular rumour.

Anonymous said...

Anne Milton was daft to even go near this one. Given her other comments recently I'm wondering why she was appointed - it certainly wasn't for her looks (unless camera is a fan of pugs!). She's coming across as a loud-mouthed liability.

simon said...

Isn't it intended as a back-door subsidy to the dairy industry as much as anything else. Judging by the back of envelope maths, they seem to be....milking it for all it's worth.

ginsingian said...

Milk has nutritional benefits there is no doubt, and yes good patents should make sure there offspring have a balanced diet. Now wake up get out to some of the schools in some of the deprived areas of northern Britain and tell me some of these kids don't need extra help and a small safety net. No doubt you have nice organic milk on your swiss muesli in a morning.

Brian said...

I ascribe my love of all cheeses to drinking milk at infant school. It was either turning sour or, on one memorable occasion, frozen solid in the bottle. In hot weather we were allowed to "drink" it outside which undoubtedly accounted for the grass in the playground being especially lush. As simon says above, I reckon the dairies supplying it benefit most from "free" milk.

Unknown said...

"Taking milk away" implies that the only place kids get sustenance is from Government provision during the school day.

Kids need plenty of regular sleep, too, but we don't expect schools to dish this out (excluding nursery classes of course).

Newmania said...

Hopi Sen has a rather diffrent take on this

I think you are being a bit naieve myself Iain

Brendan Montague said...

How long before someone trawls through her expenses to see what she thinks taxpayers should be paying for?

Gordon Brown said...

In the immortal words of the coalition, I agree Iain. The government shouldn't be involved in providing milk.

Your comment on 186million pints reminds me of some maths I did on Boris' bike scheme.

Each bike has cost £23,333 each to put out on the street. Imagine how many bikes Boris could have bought for Londoners with that sort of money.

Surely anyone in the private sector would have looked at that and thought "hmm, if it's going to cost us 23 grand to provide each bike, this is uneconomic. we won't go ahead."

Bill Quango MP said...

I think the comments here are correct.
Politically it was much too far a cut to be attempted. The negative media from just suggesting it shows that DC was right and the cuts are going to be as political as they are brutal.

Lady Finchley said...

All this hand-wringing about milk for 'the poor'. Children entitled to free school lunches should get their milk with their lunch - there is absolutely no need to provide it to thousands who don't need it. It reeks of nanny statism and if you can afford a pack of fags you can afford milk for your kids.

Gerry57 said...

Labour are experts at twisting facts to attack Margaret Thatcher. When Mrs. Thatcher once sugessted stocking up on tinned food to beat raging inflation, Dennis Skinner accused her of "filching little tins of salmon from supermarkets and taking them out of the pensioners' mouths."

Ridiculous, but the words stuck in Labourite minds.

MikeyP said...

I would like to point out that there is already a method of supplying milk to children. It is called Parents!

Anonymous said...


The Scottish Government do not leak but Westmidden does.

CF the SG approach to Megrahi and that of the incumbent and former den of thieves, aka the ZanuLab.

Goodwin said...

All areas of Government are ripe for cutting after years of Labour bloat. Nothing should be ring-fenced whether the aid budget or domestic social or welfare services. We need more adult, considered government and less knee-jerkism from Dave (who I am increasingly glad not to have voted for).

dazmando said...

I blogged on this today and also enjoyed John Redwoods rant

School milk at school made me sick an I hated milk for ages after being forced to drink warm milk at school. Why not fruit.

my blog is about how the media changed the non story into some massive story which was full of hot air.

Page With A View said...

Cameron's u-turn is unsurprising in an age dominated by media frenzies and a fickle public with the attention span of a gnat’s John Thomas.

The idea deserved investigation, not a knee jerk reaction. Milton was an NHS nurse for 25 years and she is married to the Director of Public Health at a PCT - perhaps worth listening to?

Now we will never know, because Cameron arbitrarily shut down any further debate on the subject. His woman management stinks, talk about stabbing your junior minister in the back.

Unknown said...

Warm milk that had been sitting outside all morning, often with slugs on the bottles.

The government should either trust parents to feed their own children, if they think parents are incapable will a small bottle of milk make much difference.

If Cameron runs scared at the least chance of a bad headline it does not bode well for what will happen when the unions chalenge him.

Anonymous said...

James Bloodworth does not understand the diversity of humanity. There are tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of children who suffer from being forced to drink cows' milk.
"Unarguable" - bah humbug! High protein food is of value but, apart from milk being high-fat rather than high-protein, it is unsuitable for many children (and not just Chinese).
When I started school no-one noticed that I didn't drink milk; at the time it was made compulsory I was the second largest child in the class, by the time my (then) school made it optional I was the second smallest.

David Lindsay said...

What a complete and utter shambles this Government is. And remind me, who is the relevant Secretary of State in this case? Away with Michael Gove. Away with him.

But Margaret Thatcher's time as Education Secretary does not deserve to be remembered best for the withdrawal of free school milk. It deserves to be remembered best, if that is the word, for the closure of so many grammar schools that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled.

Unknown said...

I thought we lived in a democracy, not a Camaron dictatorship.

Weygand said...

Just to set the context - I did not vote Conservative at the last election - while I am philosophically conservative my local candidate was an illiterate idiot standing on a platform opposing polices voted by the local Conservative council (which rendered both ridiculous).

So when I hear a recent A lister on Radio 4 saying of the DC intervention "I don't think it smacks of good government...", I feel here we go again, except Cameron's intervention was that of a man who became leader of his party because he understood that politics is the art of the possible and you didn't become a candidate because you clearly don't.

Of course it made economic sense to stop the milk - but the political price to pay would have been too high - just look at what the suggestion it might happen has produced.

I don't mind you being wrong - it's the useless damage that you do by making a fuss about it.

Let me prescribe a little less media excitement and a little more reflection.

Boy on a bike said...

The kids who need the milk the most are probably being fed soft drinks by their useless parents - at much greater cost.

It's only 186ml per day. My two youngest kids, both under 5, can knock of 3 litres of milk between them per day. What is the point of the taxpayer providing a piddling amount of milk?

Anonymous said...

A comment on Paul Waugh's blog...

...points out that free milk was abolished in 1980, ie by the Tories and not labour. So Redwood seems to be wrong - and any partisan justification for cutting it again is misplaced.
And this was for teenagers, not babies. It was further restricted in '88.

So once again I think it wise for Cameron to scupper the notion that babies should have it withdrawn. Maybe they should but its a hard case to argue.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree about Anne Milton.

Osborne made it clear that ministers should put their proposals to the Treasury and the Treasury would decide. Osborne would then publicise all in his autumn budget.

Anne Milton isn't the keeper of the Coalition policies and is clearly not sensitive to the political climate and its intricate path between minefields.

Perhaps she was trying too hard. Perhaps she wanted to bump the government into accepting her proposal by publicising it.

Had she run this by the Treasury first? If so, what did the Treasury tell her? I doubt they'd've told her to go for it - they probably told her to wait for the conclusions of the spending review.

Anonymous said...

The SNP leaked this proposal, it actually shows that the Scottish Government in their hands are untrustworthy IMO!