It was a nickname she hated but found difficult to shake off: Margaret Thatcher was in charge of education in Sailor Heath’s Government, and it was on her watch that free school milk for five to eleven year olds was abolished. The taunts of “Mrs Thatcher, milk snatcher” went on for years afterwards, even after she entered 10 Downing Street.
So when a letter surfaced confirming that free school milk for the under fives was getting the axe, there was bound to be both emotional response and brief history lesson. This happened earlier today on the Andy Marr Show (hosted today by James Landale) as the letter from Health Minister Anne Milton was revealed.
Landale had Tory thinking man and Universities Minister David Willetts on the show, and the inevitable questions followed. The straightest of bats was deployed in response: comprehensive spending review, everything to be decided, getting spending under control, and of course those tough choices once more. And that, for the moment, was that.
Except that it wasn’t quite that. While the programme was still on air, word came through that Downing Street had overruled Ms Milton, and that this particular cut would not now go ahead. Willetts negotiated the volte face very well – even Labour’s Sadiq Khan, who was doing the paper review, gave him kudos for that – but he must have wondered what on earth his masters were up to.
All these upcoming tough choices will need the followers of the new and improved two-headed donkey to hold firm and not waver. What happened this morning, live on air, cannot be repeated if the Coalition wants to retain its credibility.