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Gloucestershire Tories attack Government free school meals policy, label Nick Clegg a 'useful idiot'

By jrmaidment  |  Posted: May 30, 2014

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was heavily criticised by Conservative county councillors

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They might be able to keep a lid on animosity in Westminster but Lib Dems and Tories in Gloucestershire dragged the spirit of coalition through the dirt in a spiteful debate about free meals for school children.

As of September every school in England will be required to provide free meals to year one and two pupil.

But the policy announced by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at the Lib Dem party conference last year has faced almost constant criticism focusing on roll-out costs, funding questions and demanding timescales.

The leader of the Lib Dems on Gloucestershire County Council, Jeremy Hilton, asked the authority to formally welcome the policy at a meeting this week and the Tories took the opportunity to poke fun and ridicule its chief architect.

Councillor Paul McLain (C, Battledown and Charlton Kings), cabinet member for children and young people and strategic commissioning, was the primary antagonist.

“I actually feel quite sorry for the Cleggmeister,” he said.

“Lenin coined the phrase ‘useful idiots’ and I don’t think that would be used entirely unfairly about the Deputy Prime Minister.

“I guess, to use Lenin’s words, he has been a useful idiot.”

Mr McLain said the policy had been “unravelling ever since” it was announced.

“This is a typical back-of-a-fag-packet announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister,” he said.

Mr McLain’s cabinet colleague Councillor Kathy Williams (C, Longlevens) also piled in, describing free school meals as a “typical, ill-thought out Liberal Democrat policy”.

“They haven’t thought about the stress this has given to head teachers who have a tough enough workload already,” she said.

“There has been no thought given to timescales.”

Mr Hilton rejected the criticism, describing the Tory jabs as “childish”.

His motion was eventually agreed at Wednesday’s meeting, receiving the backing of Lib Dem and Labour councillors, but the Conservative group opted to abstain.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Hilton said: “The introduction of free school meals for every single infant school pupil is a positive step in the right direction.

“It is great initiative that will bring positive benefits encouraging positive eating habits and helping to improve concentration and performance in the classroom. It will also save families £420 per pupil per year.

“I am disappointed that the Tories abstained in welcoming the free school meals initiative especially considering that nationally cross-party support has now been given for this policy”.

The county’s Labour group backed the motion but criticised the way the policy has been put in place.

Councillor Tracy Millard (Lab, Tuffley) said: “Schools and councils are now struggling to implement the policy and money that should be being spent on books and pupils is now being spent on kitchens, because the Lib Dems did not do their homework.”

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  • MrGarnet  |  June 02 2014, 10:34PM

    You had the chance to clean out the Augean stables of the liblabcon merchants.Instead the people voted for more of the same.

    |   1
  • TIMONLINE2010  |  June 01 2014, 8:55PM

    Who is actually funding this? The government, councils or schools?

  • Hubert1841  |  May 31 2014, 12:06PM

    They are quite content to have subsidised meals themselves, though http://tinyurl.com/p2xh9wt

    |   4
  • RoadWombat  |  May 30 2014, 4:32PM

    They abstain because they are cowards. They abstain because, in order to keep their piggy noses in the trough, they don't want to upset anyone and lose their vote next time round. My suggestion would be to name and shame any abstainer and declare them unfit to hold public office.

    |   5
  • SandraPee  |  May 30 2014, 3:49PM

    Why do councillors abstain ? Surely they should come down off the fence and either vote ''for'' or ''against'' .!

    |   7
  • IsitJimKerr  |  May 30 2014, 10:58AM

    Another 'idealistic' (ridiculous) policy from the LD's. JEEEEEZ, if they ever REALLY got control of the country, I actually think they would be WORSE than Liebour......if that is poss!

    |   3