The Tories’ U-turn over free milk for under-fives made the government look weak and disorganised last weekend.
The row about whether milk will be cut for children in nurseries unfolded live on television as David Willetts, the universities minister, defended the proposal during an interview.
He was then surprised to be told that David Cameron had just ruled the cut out.
Cameron was desperate to distance himself from Margaret Thatcher. She will be forever known as the “milk snatcher” after taking free milk from school children as education minister in 1971.
Now Tory health minister Anne Milton wanted to axe the scheme.
Milton said that it was too expensive and “this would clearly be the best time to do it, given the state of public finances and the need to make savings”.
The fragile coalition is trying to walk a narrow path, keeping the right wing of the Tory Party on the same page as the most liberal of Lib Dems.
But Cameron’s real fear is there is a lot less support for the reality of cuts to services than the Tories like to claim.
Tory leaders fear revolt but are also under pressure from the right and the Tory media not to retreat from making workers pay for the crisis.
Cameron and George Osborne have promised the markets such austerity measures—and they are keen to get them.
The Daily Mail editorial on Monday of this week told Cameron to “hold your nerve on cuts”.
It said that the problem over milk “smacks of confusion in the ranks and panic at the first whiff of grapeshot”.
The coalition is far from bulletproof. Resistance can lead to more embarrassing public displays of turmoil. This in turn can help to weaken the government and give confidence to the fightback.