A Prime Minister defending a government policy is usually quite unremarkable. But today David Cameron defended the Government’s free school meals policy, and given the amount of vitriol this has attracted between the two Coalition parties in recent weeks, that really is remarkable. He told the World at One:
‘I don’t really accept it was made on the hoof because, as I say, it was trialled, a decent amount of time has been set aside for its introduction, £150m… Any change is always difficult and I think you should judge the change as it comes in.
‘This Government has made a lot of difficult decisions, a lot of changes but so often what you see is an enormous fuss when they’re announced and then actually after some time people can see well, actually, this policy is working, this is delivering.
‘And the idea of all infants in school being able to have school meals and sitting and eating together, I think in a few years’ time people will look back and say “well, why on earth didn’t we do that before?”.’
This is significant not just because Cameron is contradicting the briefings from former Conservative advisers such as Dominic Cummings about the policy being made on the hoof to please Nick Clegg but also because of what it says about the way the Coalition has worked on Education policy in particular. As Cummings told Coffee House recently, the only way the Tories in the Education department achieved as much as they did in terms of reform was because they ignored the influential Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Nick Clegg, ‘against the wishes of Downing Street’. It wasn’t just that DfE was in conflict with the Deputy Prime Minister, but that it was in conflict with Number 10, too, and it’s quite clear that on the matter of free school meals, Number 10 rolled over for Clegg against the wishes of the Tories in DfE.