The extreme difficulty of having a sensible debate about public spending in the Uk thanks to Labour’s unpleasant, personalised and biased approach to the topic has been revealed by the case of free school milk.
If you listen to the debate you would think that Baroness Thatcher alone abolished free school milk, leaving it just for under 5s. Ann Milton and David Willetts came forward to query the costs and value of the last vestiges of free milk. David Cameron seeing the political danger intervened to stop them becoming heirs to the mantle of “milk snatchers”.
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remember that Edward Short was Education Secretary for most of 1968 (I looked it up) the year when the free milk was withdrawn, because no-one ran a campaign claiming he left us short of free milk.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.
The intervention of the Prime Minister to save the milk also confirms what you have been reading here. The increases in cash spending allowed for in the next four years do not require as much pain and as many difficult cuts as the publlic sector wants you to believe. If we can keep the free milk for the under 5s it cannot be that eye wateringly tough out there. It will still require some good management of course – and there will still be public sector managers who choose to cut things we would rather they didn’t, even allowing for the cash increases in the totals.