Milking an issue ...

During an election debate at Whitehaven school as part of the 2005 election campaign, Jamie Reed who was then the Labour candidate for Copeland (now the MP) claimed that he became interested in politics as a small child when Mrs Thatcher took away his school milk.

I pointed out immediately that he probably hadn't been born, and certainly wasn't old enough to be at school, when Mrs Thatcher took school milk away from some pupils. (I was right the first time - he hadn't been born in 1971.)

If the Labour's propaganda campaign on this subject convincing him that Maggie Thatcher had stopped his milk really was the reason why Jamie Reed joined that party, perhaps I should have pointed out that he had been conned into joining them under false pretences and sent him a Conservative application form.

The actual history of events was:

1) 1968 - Labour government takes free school milk away from secondary school children. The Secretary of state for Education at the time was Ted Short.

2) 1971 - Conservative government takes free school milk away from 7-11 year olds. The Secretary of state for Education at the time was Margaret thatcher, who unlike her Labour predecessor and successors, faced a campaign of personal vilification over the decision which is still remembered today.

3) 1977 Labour government with Jim Callaghan as PM and Shirley Williams as education secretary, cancels free school milk for 5-7 year olds. So it was Jim Callaghan and Shirley Williams, NOT Margaret Thatcher, who took free school milk away from the infant Jamie Reed.

What I find absolutely disgraceful about the way the television covered the recent school milk issue is that every report on BBC and Sky has referred to the 1971 decision and personally attributed it to Margaret Thatcher, but hardly a one has mentioned the 1968 or 1977 decisions, or Ted Short and Shirley Williams. A pretty clear case of bias.

As 'The Independent' wrote on the subject, "What is little known is that Mrs Thatcher actually opposed ending school milk and was forced into the position by the Treasury. She was so upset by the public response that she considered quitting politics. In her autobiography, she wrote: 'I learned a valuable lesson. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.'"

Because of the mess left by the previous government, the current administration will have to consider a huge range of unpalatable cuts. So would Labour if by any terrible chance they had won the election. Some of those will go ahead, others will be withdrawn, doubtless to petty Labour chants of "U-turn." What this will actually prove is that the government listens.


Jane said…
Margaret Thatcher was appointed Secretary of State for Education in June 1970 and held the portfolio for three years eight months (until circa February 1974.) Jamie Reed was born 4th August 1973. The only milk that the infant Jamie was taking, during the last months of Mrs Thatcher's term in the post, would have come through a teat. It would have been in 1977 when the young Jamie was in the 5-7 year old category his beloved Labour Government took his milk.

Margaret Thatcher recalls her term as Education Secretary, as an unhappy experience yet it was far more successful than she would even give herself credit for. The the vilification she received as the 'milk snatcher' was unjust. The Sun, asking 'Is Mrs Thatcher human?’ dubbed her the 'most unpopular woman in Britain.' As a woman she was depicted as un-natural taking milk from babies! Yet the removal of milk from 7-11 years olds was only part of an ongoing process, of removing a universal benefit, which started under Labour. It was in fact a minor administrative rationalisation that ended a process that was wasteful and uneconomic. Milk could be provided to those with medical needs and infants that could benefit from it. Essentially the principle is the state should provide a safety net for those most in need. Those who could afford milk could buy it through the school if they so chose. In a nutshell it is not the duty of the welfare state to fund everyone's lifestyle it is a fall back for the most needy. It is the principle that Coalition Government is continuing to operate.

With regard to Mrs Thatcher she was respected by her civil servants, in that she would stand her ground against the Treasury, in ensuring the Department got a good slice of the pie when it came to the distribution of funding between departments. One important contribution Mrs Thatcher made whilst Education Secretary has been forgotten. She saved the Open University from the axe. Some Tories in opposition to the Wilson Government scoffed at the project. Mrs Thatcher was far more visionary. Not only did it give people who were working the opportunity to study and improve themselves it was a more economical way of providing university education. Mrs Thatcher fought the Treasury and Edward Heath to save it. The OU is now a thriving successful organisation, to which I am grateful for much of my own education. Whilst Harold Wilson is given the credit for its conception Mrs Thatcher deserves the credit for allowing the OU to be born rather than aborted.

History has a tendency to repeat itself. Conservative Governments succeeding Labour's inefficient management of the economy have to make difficult decisions with regard to welfare spending. Spending has to be reviewed and then placed in the areas it is most needed. David Cameron like Mrs Thatcher has to deal with similar issues. Neither the school milk issue or the OU issue were U-turns, they are the results of thoughtful contemplation with regard to the efficient use of tax payers money in order to obtain the best results for the populace.
Tim said…
This can work the other way. Loads of people think Labour invented the 3 day week - it was actually the brainchild of Edward Heath. A recent survey showed that 68% of the UK population think the Palestinians are illegally occupying Gaza.
Anonymous said…
Tim, read your history, the reason for the 3 day week was striking workers not some evil tory conspiracy.. and what survey was this you talk about, one that asked people with an iq of 70 or guardian readers??

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