Heaven help us if the voters’ prediction of a dead heat in the general election proves correct.
According to the YouGov polling chief, Stephan Shakespeare, if that happens Labour would probably look to the Lib Dems to form a coalition. It’s what the voters think we are going get – a Lab-Lib coalition.
Just think what that could mean. It barely seems credible but it could mean we are going to get the longest-serving deputy PM in British history. Another 5 years of Nick Clegg’s pomposity, bombast, hyperbole and expensive mistakes. A total of at least 10 years of Mr Clegg.
That’s unless his party cannot bear this prospect any more than I can. What worries me is whether they are up to doing anything about him. Nick Clegg’s approval ratings might make him the least popular party leader in modern history and Lib Dem activists may have once begun no-confidence proceedings against him in a 190 local associations, but the man has a hide of rhinoceros. Literally.
Nothing seems to touch him. Even when he is caught out telling what turn out to be outright whoppers. Luck was on his side last week. In the last minute drama of the Scottish referendum, as Gordon Brown’s voice of doom swayed Salmond’s wavering Nationalists, stirrings of rebellion in Clegg’s camp were passed by.
But it seems his party has begun to question Clegg’s wild claims about the educational benefits of his favourite free school meals policy that he forced on Michael Gove, that I wrote about a few weeks ago.
In fact the very author of the pilot evaluation of the project I questioned, the MP for North Devon, Nick Harvey, has challenged the claims Nick Clegg made for it, specifically those of the policy’s educational benefits.
What’s more Mr Harvey has put on the public record the fact that he doesn’t think it was the right way to spend the £1 billion involved. Too late now, but Mr Harvey is still suffering from being gobsmacked. He can’t believe that his party leader has wasted such a large sum by failing to target the children most in need. Pity he did not recover sooner.
However, unlike his boss he has a closer relationship with the truth and has finally fessed up.
Free school meals, he is reported as saying, have always traditionally been a social policy, their main purpose being the health of poor children.
“The boost to educational attainment was always the icing on the cake,” he says. “The [free school meals pilot] report made the observation that the [academic] results were hardly startling, and if your primary aim was to improve academic attainment, there are plenty of other things you could have done that were better value.”
He is right.
According to research by the think tank Education Foundation, oral language interventions, costing around £170 per pupil per year, boost educational progress by five months. Peer tutoring, at the same cost, leads to a six-month boost.
In the wonderful world of Cleggonomics, universal free school meals, are the answer, though the pilot showed they had no impact. A four week boost at Key Stage 1 and eight weeks at KS2 occurred only if all children in a school got them. And such a short term outcome is, any good social scientist would tell you pretty meaningless without a longer term study. Nor it happens was there evidence for any boost at all if only KS1 children got the free meals.
At £440 per pupil per year this is hardly a good way to spend the money, as the honest Mr Harvey points out.
So there you have it.
The cocky Mr Clegg’s unique interpretation of the results of the pilot pushed a policy that gives neither educational advantage nor feeds the neediest children.
So despite all the disruption to schools of putting in expensive new kitchens (for which there was no budget) the right children are still not served.
No wonder Mr Harvey is upset. He says that for virtually the same amount of money, “you could have given a free school meal to every child living in the Government’s own definition of poverty”.
Instead, “along comes this policy that gives a free meal to 1.5 million infants”, when 1.2 million of those are from households that can afford to pay for it.
So it turns out that the one billion pound plan of the clueless Clegg to curry favour with parents is worse than a laughable fiasco. It is a wicked waste of money.
Please, please, someone tell me that it cannot be possible that the country has to suffer this type of Cleggonomics for another five years.