Can free school meals revive the Lib Dems?

The party’s £1bn policy allows all pupils in all infant classes to get a daily hot meal. Nick Clegg took a lot of flak when it was announced – but how is it working out? Jay Rayner joins him in the school dinner queue

The first day of the autumn term at Walnut Tree Walk Primary School in Lambeth and there are some special people queuing for lunch: the 30 or so new reception year pupils, a wide-eyed, open-mouthed trail of baffled-looking four- and five-year-olds. There’s also the deputy prime minister, his speech writers, handlers and security detail, but they’re used to Nick Clegg and his entourage here at Walnut Tree Walk. 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.

Clegg seems energised today, and with reason. The start of the school year also brings the start of free school meals for all the 1.9 million children in infant classes (the first three years of school) in England, at a cost of £1bn over two years; a policy Clegg announced a year ago at the Lib Dem party conference. What’s more, as of this lunchtime it hasn’t been the total car crash predicted by his political opponents and portions of the schools sector.

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