Johnson’s reputation in northern England further diminished

Government defeated Labour motion backing Rashford’s free meals call but the victory could prove pyrrhic

 Marcus Rashford: the British  government defeated Labour’s motion backing the footballer’s  campaign  for free school  meals to be provided for poor children during school holidays  while the coronavirus pandemic lasts. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Marcus Rashford: the British government defeated Labour’s motion backing the footballer’s campaign for free school meals to be provided for poor children during school holidays while the coronavirus pandemic lasts. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Boris Johnson, who cut a swathe through Labour strongholds last December by promising to “level up” the neglected English provinces, has this week seen his government demonised in the North of England as mean-spirited, patronising and out of touch.

If making a local martyr of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham over £5 million was politically questionable, picking a fight with Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford over free meals for poor children looks like madness.

Rashford’s personal experience of growing up in poverty and depending on free school meals gives him some authority when he calls for the meals to be provided during school holidays too while the coronavirus pandemic lasts. But this did not stop a number of Conservative MPs dismissing him as a millionaire celebrity, with Mansfield’s Ben Bradley describing free school meals as a freebie.

“We’re doing a lot to help the most vulnerable children, but ever-extending freebies are a sticking plaster not a solution,” he tweeted.

Rashford replied that the government already paid a high price for child poverty in underachievement and lost potential, adding that the extension of free school meals was an emergency measure rather than a long-term solution.

“Since March, 32% of families have suffered a drop in income. Nearly 1 million have fallen off the payroll. This is not dependency, this is a cry for help. There are no jobs!! 250% increase in food poverty and rising. Nobody said this was simple,” he said.

After prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Johnson went to the tea room to schmooze with Conservative backbenchers. Prime ministerial visits to the tea room are usually a sign of trouble, all the more so for an unclubbable figure such as Johnson.

There is more bad news to come as further regions of England are expected to be moved into severe local lockdowns at the same time as chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme ends, with an expected sharp rise in unemployment. The government defeated Labour’s motion backing Rashford’s campaign but the victory could prove to be a costly one.

“Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have badly let down more than one million children and their families,” Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said immediately after the vote.

 “No child should go hungry over the holidays, but the government is blocking the action needed to prevent this. We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue. This campaign is not over and the government must reconsider.”

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.