Nick Clegg will tomorrow announce that all children in their first three years of education will receive free school meals, covering around 1.5m a year. Lib Dems believe that free meals provide an even greater academic boost than enforced literacy hours by enabling children who may not get enough food from home to concentrate during lessons.
But the politics of the deal is even more interesting: It will cost £600m a year, with details of the funding included in George Osborne
's forthcoming Autumn Statement (which, somewhat counterintuitively, is expected at the end of November).
Most importantly, Clegg aides have linked it to the Conservatives' long-standing desire to fund a married couples' tax break, which is widely expected to be announced at the forthcoming Tory party conference. And how much does the Institute for Fiscal Studies predict George Osborne's a £150-a-year tax break for married couples will cost? £550m.
So this has all the hallmarks of a classic conference switch: the Tories wanted funding to please their party faithful. And the Lib Dems, who oppose tax breaks married couples, agreed to this on the proviso that they were able to spend a similar amount.
Clegg's aides told that this free school meals policy "would not have happened without us". And they're right – but it also only happened because a group of Tory backbenches kept moaning about marriage. And the end result is that from September 2014 more than a million children will have a free lunch – including Nick Clegg's five year old son Miguel.