BBC News – Downing Street rejects child milk scheme cut suggestion. David Cameron has come out against UK Health Minister Anne Milton’s proposal to scrap free milk for under fives. Of course, we will never know the real reasoning behind this U-turn, but the following factors are certainly at play:
- Nobody likes to be seen taking milk from small children
- Conservatives are still occasionally reminded that it was Margaret Thatcher who took the milk away from the children last time
- It’s a gift to Labour leadership contenders — in fact, David Miliband had already described the proposal as a ‘cruel cut’.
- The Liberal Democrats are restless. In a coalition where both parties are required for the coalition to happen, one restless Lib Dem MP counts the same as eight restless Tory back-benchers.
Whatever the real reasoning — and David Cameron may not himself understand all the factors which led to a Tory minister being unceremoniously stamped on — I see this as a sign that coalition politics is working for Britain. Whichever way you look at it, Cameron is showing sensitivity to what ordinary (non-Tory) people think. It’s a fair bet that the vast majority of people who will benefit from this are not Tory voters. Where under-5s are deprived of milk, the chances are that it’s linked to inner-city deprivation, not to countryside middle-class angst.
Whether this may reduce Cameron as a strong leader in the eyes of the world (seriously, he may have been reduced over the last couple of weeks, but not because of milk), it shows that our government is, at least in some sense, acting as our government. This by contrast with the Thatcher government, and, lest we forget, the Blair-Brown government, which felt free to act with impunity, especially when its decisions affected people who didn’t vote for it.
Incidentally, Anne Milton was probably right in her claim that the scientific evidence doesn’t actually support free milk. But educating politicians to make evidence based decisions as opposed to merely acceptable ones is probably a battle for another day.
Nonetheless, we progress.