There is a theory that history is always repeated, and that certainly appears to be the case with our coalition government.
In 1970 a new Conservative Government took power under Edward Heath and it immediately looked for spending cuts. At the Department of Education a new and eager Minister considered options such as introducing borrowing fees for library books before deciding on an end to the universal practice of giving schoolchildren free milk.
The minister’s name was Margaret Thatcher – and she was immediately nicknamed Thatcher The Milk Snatcher. This established Thatcher’s heartless reputation, and didn’t she live up to it in years to come?
Now in 2010 a new Conservative/ Liberal government has taken power under David Cameron and it is immediately looking for spending cuts. At the Department of Health a new and eager Minister is considering options. And she is proposing to abolish the UK wide Nursery Milk scheme which gives free milk to 1.5 million children aged under five years old.
This new Minister’s name is Anne Milton, the MP for Guilford and, ironically, a former nurse. Milton admits that ending the scheme, which has been in place since 1940 would be “highly controversial”. But she thinks that it is not “cost effective” and therefore has to go.
SNP Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has urged a rethink, calling the proposal “damaging” and “wrong” while Shadow Heath Secretary Andy Burnham called the move, “cutting without compassion”.
The proposal could put further pressure on the coalition, as at least one Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister has previously praised the virtues of free school milk. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne stated last October there was “no doubt” about the health benefits to free milk.
Of course, Huhne’s party also campaigned against a VAT rise, but that too was last year, so the Lib Dems may yet support their partners’ policy with another u-turn.
David Cameron’s government is in the process of making widespread cuts in public expenditure that will not only threaten the economic recovery but will also hit the poorest in society the hardest.
By invoking the spirit of Thatcher, Anne Milton has given us a true glimpse into the ideological attack on the public sector that our government is perpetuating. We can only hope that the public will see through this latest proposed cut and tell Cameron exactly what they think of his government.
And Anne Milton may well find herself know as Thatcher Mark 2. Of course she may quite enjoy the comparison.
But for most of the country the thought of a second Thatcher is a notion too awful to contemplate.