When politicians need to visit an educational establishment they cross the river to Lambeth. Clegg was last here for Christmas lunch. I ask him if he’s getting his usual table, and he grins. “The food’s good here,” he says, perkily.I'd imagine he says everything perkily. He's just that sort of chap..
According to government figures 98% of the nearly 16,000 primary schools in England were able to offer a hot meal. Those having to make do for now with packed lunches for lack of kitchen facilities were in the low hundreds.
“I’m thrilled to bits that something all these naysayers said couldn’t and shouldn’t happen, has happened,” Clegg says.Allow me to translate: "IN YOUR FACE, RIGHT-WINGERS!"
There’s a choice of noodles, lentil bake or lamb sausages with peas and gravy and mash that’s the reassuringly familiar shape of an ice-cream scoop. We both choose the latter.Yummy!
… critics saw a benefit worth more than £400 per child as wasteful when many parents could afford to pay for it.
“Look, we as a society have already made choices about certain things being available as a universal benefit, be it the NHS or education itself.” What matters, he says, is that the children living in poverty benefit from it.
“You don’t want children at a tender age being separated out between those who can pay and those who can’t. There is a value in everybody feeling the same.”Ah, the raising of feelings to the status of reality, again...
“What lies behind the criticism of free school food is this belief that worrying about food is a distraction from real education issues, that somehow it doesn’t count. There’s a sneering disregard for food, that it’s not serious.” And that’s not so?
“No,” he says. He has cleared his plate, leaving only a puddle of gravy and has moved on to the fresh fruit.
“They’re wrong. They’re flatly wrong. It’s a turning of the page that as a country we’re much more comfortable talking about the importance of food.”This is a country that doesn't do that? I'm pretty sure the 50% of tv that isn't superhero shows or property shows or gameshows is cookery stuff, Cleggy-boy. You can't really escape it.
The subject does, however, lead him on to a point of principle: that school meals for infants and the pupil premium are examples of policies targeted at the earliest years of life.
“The state is intervening intelligently at a point in a child’s life when it makes a difference. Feeding children properly early on at school means in the long term you have better educated children,” he says.
“That means lower crime, better health and benefits for society all round. I think people will look back and ask how we managed when hot healthy meals were not available to little children at school.”You really believe that?