Name the milk snatchers

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remember that Edward Short was Education Secretary for most of 1968 (I looked it up) the year when the free milk was withdrawn, because no-one ran a campaign claiming he left us short of free milk.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.


  1. JimF
    August 9, 2010

    Yes, this is a silly distracting pin-prick of an argument in a field of swords and bullets
    It'd be more instructive and interesting to hear your views on the "education-snatching" which will happen when anyone with any sense goes overseas with their A levels to avoid a lifetime 5% income tax premium on an undergraduate education here. This LibDem "cunning plan" is the surest way to consign our top Universities to the grave on the mantle of encouraging the less able to take University courses which are irrelevant and unsuitable. Real Conservatives should disown this plan at birth.

    1. Sally C.
      August 9, 2010

      As the mother of a university student, studying Computer Science, I am very concerned about this education tax. I would far prefer an increase in tuition fees rather than worrying that my son will be saddled with a perpetual tax just because he chose to go to university.

      1. JimF
        August 9, 2010

        And nobody asks the obvious question as to why most benefits are a Grant and not a loan.

  2. Alan Jutson
    August 9, 2010

    Just out of interest is it. Full cream, Semi skimmed or Fully skimmed.

    On second thoughts do not reply, It may start another argument or complicate things further.

    Government force feeding our children with unhealthy drinks, Children and Parents deserve a choice.

    1. forthurst
      August 9, 2010

      Homogenised or unhomogenised?

      Of course, milk as a food beyond weaning, is associated particularly with communities whose ancestors have been raising beef stock since Neolithic times and have evolved to retain lactase for lactose digestion, typically Northern Europeans.

      Now that we are a mulitracial society with enrichment from hunter-gatherer or rice eating stocks where no evolutionary benefit will have accrued to lactose digestion beyond weaning, perhaps alternative forms of nourishment should be available on a culturally a la carte basis?

  3. gyges
    August 9, 2010

    "They dubbed her “Milk snatcher” rather than coming up with a phrase like “Edward Heath, milk thief”."

    Sigh … John, they just hate women especially when in power.

    Why multiply entities beyond necessity?

  4. Bill
    August 9, 2010

    In the 1960’s at school I used to get the job, sometimes, pouring a lot of the milk away – it stood in the yard, un chilled. It was a waste; we spent our money on fizzy drinks.

    1. Private Schultz
      August 9, 2010

      I'm of the same vintage, and remember the undrinkable concoction that resulted in winter when crates of frozen little bottles were put next to the hot water pipes until break – an unlikely mixture of warmish milk with ice still in it.

      Did enjoy the privilege of being milk monitor though 🙂

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    August 9, 2010

    If this is an example of making the "tough decisions on public spending", I wonder what cuts, if any, will ever be made when subjected to a hostile media.

  6. Andy
    August 9, 2010

    Quite right John. The overfed and fat BBC seem to believe it is their duty to oppose this government in every and anyway they can. As you say if a few million can be found for this or that it can't be very tough out there. Seems to me the coalition isn't serious about addressing the size and nature of the State. Pity.

  7. GJWyatt
    August 9, 2010

    Well said. Reducing politics to the level of playground chants just about sums up Labour's vacuity.

  8. Paul Round
    August 9, 2010

    The stuff was disgusting.In winter it was left by radiators to thaw and became hot and went off and in summer was already going off.It was totally unnecessary and should have gone by 1950 at the latest

  9. Caledonian Comment
    August 9, 2010

    If local authority staffing levels were returned to 1997 levels, it would probably deliver most of the financial cuts required. The trouble is that the "powers that be" within these authorities would probably fire all the essential refuse collectors and care assistants while retaining the jobsworth diversity officers and lesbian creche supervisors.

  10. Boudicca
    August 9, 2010

    I was so grateful when free milk was withdrawn; it was daily torture in my primary school years. The milk was too creamy, and wasn't refrigerated. in the summer it was generally too warm and in the winter was occasionally frozen solid. In an effort to get us to drink it, the teacher allowed us to bring in Nesquick to flavour it; which mean we were drinking it laden with sugar.

    Children in this country don't need free milk. If the Government was to give them anything, they'd be better off supplying a piece of fruit or some carrot sticks.

    As for Labour; they don't know the meaning of principled Opposition. The whole country knows that if (God forbid) they'd been relected, we would be facing a combination of not-quite-so-savage cuts and much higher taxes to pay for their continued profligate spending. They can huff and puff and lie and make their pathetic personal attacks; the country isn't listening.

  11. Josh
    August 9, 2010

    The Left is an aristocracy of idiocy. Sir Stafford Cripps was one of the most brutal Chancellors in British economic history, and the last Chancellor to actually reduce the total volume of government expenditure. Roy Jenkins was a tough Chancellor, and many believe his toughness cost Labour the 1970 election. Both Tory and Labour Chancellors have been brutal with public spending, and with good reason. It was the advent of New Labour that changed the nature of political debate, as they promised everything to everyone at no extra cost. Truly, they were snakeoil salesmen.

  12. APL
    August 9, 2010

    JR: "… reminding people from time to time of their “Milk snatcher” jibe."

    Of which the BBC this very morning was doing a sterling job. If I remember their article correctly, it was launched with Humphries announcing " Margaret Thatcher the milk snatcher, bla bla …"

    Really it's been overlong that somthing drastic be done about the BBC.

    1. Butterworth Stephen
      August 22, 2010

      Absolutely. The BBC is a cesspit in comparison to what it once was. Just stand back and reflect on the two, New Labour and the BBC, and see how much damage they together have done to a once proud country.

      It used to be that the Conservatives or rather I prefer the word Tories would be elected to restore things, but today we don't have a Tory party!

      I fear for England that it all has gone too far and cannot be rectified.

      I hope to God I am wrong.

      1. Ashlkgf
        April 26, 2013

        Yes, ‘restore’ things with rubbish like Section 28. ‘Restoring’ ‘traditional’ values. Hard to restore things like that when the meaning changes.

        A proud country? Once proud? How far back do you go? Racist, close-minded, anti-LGBT Britain? Proud of that? Further back? Imperialism, Empires, wars, murder of civilians, dictatorship.

        Go to your private healthcare.

        Not found of ‘once proud’ Britain myself.

        Are you religious or is the hoping to God just a phrase? Pride is a sin.
        As for me, more naturalist: Abhor political borders. They are talked about by some as something to treasure as if they’re a constant when they aren’t. ‘England’ is made-up. Your ideas are subjective. In the grand scheme of things they mean nothing. How about you open your eyes, the world is larger than that and there is a universe of such a great size we don’t fully know.
        Forget nostalgia, leave the past behind. Also leave that rigidity behind otherwise your faculties for critical thinking and learning are compromised.

  13. Everessel
    August 9, 2010

    Great analysis, as so often. One despairs, not so much that Labour's approach is so tribally skewed, but that so many cannot, or will not, see this.

    1. Henry
      August 12, 2010

      Remember the saying? 'There are none so blind as those who won't see!'

  14. Emily
    August 9, 2010

    What will happen when something really unpopular needs to be decided?
    Cuts have to be made and I'm suprised that more haven't already happened.

    The court of public opinion seems to be in full flow again.

  15. Peter Stroud
    August 9, 2010

    I am becoming bored with the continuing BBC bias towards the left. This school milk business was still wasting valuable time on this morning's Today programme, where Humphrys was interviewing Stephen Dorrel. Amusingly, the whole non event was put to bed on Sky News yesterday when left leaning Michael White and right leaning Michael Brown agreed that it was simply a matter of a junior minister suggesting cost savings: but was slapped down by No 10 because her idea was not government policy. This was very amusing because the lady presenter was trying so hard to imply a government split.

    1. MartinW
      August 9, 2010

      Steven Dorrell as an excuse not to complain about the preposterously biased BBC report on the milk, mentioned the oh-so-often-quoted Enoch Powell saying that policians complaining about the press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea.
      Well, in the view of the even-handed press in those days, Powell was quite right. However, with the blatantly left-wing anti-Conservative BBC that we have now, I contend that Powell's opinion no longer applies. We SHOULD start complaining vociferously about the BBC's bias, and indeed seek any means (including financial and legal) to force it to regain its once balanced coverage of news and current affairs. At the presdent time, news is selected to suit their agenda, and opinion is almost entirely from one side. Absolutely scandalous.

  16. David B
    August 9, 2010

    The coalition had better move fast. The Labour party are regrouping. Its possible to get lucid – however daft – comments from spokespeople from them again. Their propaganda department, the BBC, is of course keen to publicise their views.

    Its just like the fall of Iraq really. Get those cuts in quickly before the resistance grows. And can we have a debaathification program way up the agenda too?

  17. Trev
    August 9, 2010

    removing milk from coca cola swilling teenagers is one thing. Taking it away from babies is another. At least it is politically.

    It was a dumb-assed decision. Not least to parade it in the way it was without a cabinet agreement and proper policy announcement.

    Daft politics and right to be opposed. Good to see it slapped down so quickly.

  18. Pp
    August 9, 2010

    Whats that? You think we can before waste! Never thought I would hear that from you…

  19. stewnew
    August 9, 2010

    Who did cut milk for 5 to 7 year olds?

    1. Kevin Peat
      August 9, 2010

      The Parliamentarian who stole all the milk was called Humphry.

      "Watch out. Watch out. There's a Humphry about !"

    2. William Hannam
      August 12, 2010

      It was the Conservatives in 1980 under Margaret Thatcher. This does seem to make the BBC seem a little less biased than Redwood claims as they don't mention her. Incidentally it was Patrick Gordon Walker who removed milk in 1968 and not, as implied by Redwood, Edward Short.

  20. […] interesting Education in England – Timeline Name the milk snatchers | John Redwood While the conservatives DID remove free milk from 7-11 year olds in 1971 when Edward Heath was PM […]

  21. Yarnefromhorsham
    August 9, 2010

    Triffic – the "they did it more than we did it" argument is really going to get us nowhere. Just get on and govern.

    1. Ashlkgf
      April 26, 2013

      I concur: the finger-pointing tribalism is merely a distraction. I kinda liked Clegg’s idea of working together more. I’m in favour of the parties working together. I say not just Lib Dems and Cons., let them all in. If we had this instead of division we might get a lot more things done.

  22. Iain gill
    August 9, 2010

    "truthful politician" oh how we laughed

  23. Kevin Peat
    August 9, 2010

    The leanest kids in Britain appear to be those of the lower middle-classes. Their parents are unable to afford school dinners and yet too 'well off' to qualify for free school meals. So turkey sandwiches and apples it is. (The same applies to school trips from which their children are economically excluded)

    Even with overtime in a relatively well paid job I earned £5k less than the benefit harpy who turned up at Raoul Moat's funeral last week. No wonder the tattoo-and-muffin-top brigade can afford to take their tribes to Lego Land.

    Start a campaign, Mr Redwood. Show your compassionate side with the slogan "Milk for the hard-pressed productive classes." (who are in line to be spanked hardest by Cameron's cuts and taxes) Then we might all afford to be fat – not just the privileged elite who lounge at McDonald's every day and who seem to have the political and judicial classes at their beck and call.

  24. John77
    August 9, 2010

    Cow's milk is NOT good for everyone: when compulsory school milk was imposed upon me I was the second largest child in the class, when I was eventually excused after years of complaining, I was the second smallest in the class (I won't impose the unpleasant details on your readers).
    I realise that this is not the point that you are making but it does destroy the argument put up by the New Labour spinmeisters.

  25. @craigmorecambe
    August 9, 2010

    When 'Today' editor Ceri Thomas appeared on 'Feedback' to defend his decision to completely ignore the story of Gordon Brown's retraction in the House of Commons of his 'mistakes' (in evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry) over defence spending, he said that the prime minister's admission that he gave false evidence was a "one-fact story" that broke the previous day and had been widely covered by Radio 4's other current affairs programmes on the day itself. He went on to say "Once he had said 'I made a mistake' there wasn't a great deal more for us to explore".

    Well, the milk story was no less of a "one-fact story" that broke the previous day and had been widely covered by Radio 4's other current affairs programmes on the day itself ("The World This Weekend" and "Westminster Hour" included.) And surely once Mr Cameron had said 'It ain't gonna happen' there wasn't a great deal more for 'Today' to explore.

    And yet explore it they did!!

  26. English Pensioner
    August 9, 2010

    I just wish the Tories would stop being polite and attack the Labour party with somewhat more vigour. They seem to get away with headline rubbish all the time, and no-one seems to respond. Surely there are Labour ex-ministers who could be attacked for what they have done, whether it is relevant to the issue at the time or not.

    1. Ashlkgf
      April 26, 2013

      Oh great, just what we need. More division and tribalism from the Tories. I’m sick of them being the most tribalistic party as it is, don’t encourage them.

  27. Kevin Peat
    August 10, 2010

    If BBC bias is the problem shouldn't they have their wings clipped ?

    1. Andrew Johnson
      August 10, 2010

      And your proposals for achieving this are?

      1. Electro-Kevin
        August 11, 2010

        For one it is in their charter that they are to be politically impartial. For another the levels at which their licence fee is set can be challenged.

      2. Butterworth Stephen
        August 22, 2010

        I would scrap the TV licence, and then I would boot out the top 50 executives of the BBC without their golden parachutes and with drastically cut pensions. I would then lower the salary for those 50 "top" jobs at the BBC, and I would then advertise to fill those positions from the population, and make sure that none of the applicants had never been a part of the BBC before.

        The BBC has been biased for as long as I can remember.

        It needs drastic action. Just like Parliament and the Lords, they are all stuffed full of "takers" of too high salaries coupled with people who hate Britain and who seem to think that class war equates to common sense.

        If you want bias, the BBC is your friend. The country would be better off without.

  28. Bob
    August 10, 2010

    The BBC shouldn't be allowed to get away with this kind of biased reporting. The government should demand an immediate clarification each time it happens, because not all BBC viewers/ listeners read your blog, and so the myth becomes fact.

  29. Donald
    August 12, 2010

    In Scotland free school milk was in Primary Schools until 1987/8 and i remember that on its removal parents were given the option to continue, at a price
    The fee then was 4p per day and even in a very middle class primary in Edinburgh only a tiny minority of parents paid for this sacred cow.
    From a school of 200 or so less than 15 continued with milk. 3 of whom were all from my family!
    Free milk is such a non issue – with a sentimental value far in excess of nutritional or monetary.

  30. Sabrina
    April 15, 2013

    Well, I am speaking from the point of view of someone born and raised in the USA but one of the few Americans who actually does pay attention to international affairs. Since I hold a degree in International Studies, I feel I have a reasonable knowledge of history, political science and journalism for both the US and UK, so I’m am daring to give my perspective on the issue:

    In regard to the development of the “Thatcher milk snatcher” myth, it sounds to me like the media simply took advantage of Lady Thatcher’s surname to come up with a sensational headline that would not only bolster the position of her opposition, the Labor party, but it would also beschmirch Margaret Thatcher and other Conservatives for a long time to come after that. “Snatcher” rhymes with Thatcher and why let facts get in the way of a headline that will sell newspapers, eh? What I find just amazing is that this myth has persisted as long as it has. Doesn’t anyone fact check over there on your side of the Pond?

    As for the ones claiming that they hate Thatcher because “she took my milk away.” I say “bovine scatology.” The bulk of the protesters who are out there symbolically kicking Margaret Thatcher’s corpse in their orgy of hatred and uncouthness weren’t even BORN in the early 1970s, some weren’t even born in the 80s, so those cuts didn’t impact them in any meaningful way…so they are to quote the song by Queen, “Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise, playing in the street gonna be a big man someday, you got mud on your face, you big disgrace…”

    FACT: The free school milk cuts was a policy driven by the Treasury, first under Iain Macleod, then Anthony Barber. The actual ax-man was Edward Short, who was education secretary before Lady Thatcher. Shirley Williams actually cut the milk for INFANTS. Yet, Lady Thatcher’s detractors aided by the media unfairly and in accurately assigned the blame to only Thatcher.

    The “protesters” don’t even realize that it was Lady Thatcher who fought to re-instate the milk. Her exact quote is as follows: “I think that the complete withdrawal of free milk for our school children would be too drastic a step and would arouse more widespread public antagonism than the saving justifies.” She came up with a compromise that would SAVE the program for the youngest and most vulnerable students!


    The free milk was re-instated only to be taken away again in 1995 …well after Lady Thatcher’s departure from 10 Downing Street. So where’s the vitriol for John Major since that happened under HIS watch?

    I really can’t help but wonder if some of this animosity toward Lady Thatcher is less about her conservative politics than the fact that she was a strong woman in leadership, and some seem to still feel threatened by that. If men had done and said some of the things Lady Thatcher said, it would be overlooked. Seems we still have a long way to go before women in power are truly accepted in society.

    and that is my opinion, take it or leave it.

    1. Ashlkgf
      April 26, 2013

      No, there are few people who fact check over here. I see we are very lazy. A lot of people prefer to believe rhetoric from tabloid journalism especially. This even happens on the issues which the Cons. would not like me to discuss. Including anti-immigration peddling and anti-EU lies. Thing is, some of the articles are just made up to see what we are willing to believe.

      I was lead here to fact check the removal of milk from schools. This page is still one that contains spin.

      Talking about the UK, the USA aren’t big fact checkers either. Conspiracies galore surrounding Obama alone. (etc – offers lies about Obama-ed)

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