There has been a lot made of the fact that the state of the economy has given the Tories the ideal opportunity to do what they have always wanted to do and that is cut as much support/benefits as possible because in theory they are things that stereotypical Tories don’t use anyway. I have been willing to give them a fair amount of slack becuase the fact remains that no matter who was going to be in government, there were going to be savage cuts!
However the fiasco with the free milk issue has really highlighted something for me, that maybe there is something in the accusation.
Anne Milton had come up with the idea of removing the benefit, and in her opinion:
“Abolition of the scheme is likely to be highly controversial, particularly as this will affect some children in low-income families.”
However, she added: “This should not prevent us from ending an ineffective universal measure – and this would clearly be the best time to do it, given the state of public finances and the need to make savings.”
This is worrying in the first instance, the way that she is happy to use the finance issue to cut it off, regardless of the effect upon low-income families. But more deeply, it seems that she has made this recommendation because this is the “best time to do it”, not because of the savings value to the economy. In plain terms, she did not care how much it would save, just that this is a good time to slash it.
Then you have the fact that it was almost there, and David Willetts, the higher education minister, was briefing it on live TV, when David Cameron decided he might get the same backlash as when Maggie last tried to do it and canned the idea. Mr Willetts had to be told by the presenters what Cameron had done. Nothing like having the rug pulled by your boss.
The implication of this is bizarre. Either there was a good economic model for chopping free milk and Cameron got cold feet and was worried about his reputation, or Chopping free milk was something they were trying to slip in and got caught, and therefore Cameron had to ‘save’ the situation.
It just proves we have to scrutinise every move, and keep asking questions. I would love to know where the Lib Dems were at when all this was going on.