The conservative government, already mired by it’s mishandling of the COVID 19 pandemic is now facing another backlash after Tory ministers voted down Labours motion to provide children with free school meals during half term. Labour tabled the free school meals motion on Wednesday 21st October, which was backed by Manchester United’s player Marcus Rashford MBE. Unfortunately, the motion was voted down 322 – 261 by a conservative majority, with only 5 conservatives MPs voting in support.
Rashford, who has been working with the charity ‘FareShare’ in an effort to tackle child poverty in the UK, has had an enormous public response to his child food poverty campaign. Many musicians and football clubs have expressed support for Rashford campaign, including the band Coldplay who have also posted the petition on their twitter pages and openly thanked Rashford for his ‘’fantastic campaign’’. Louis Tomlinson of One Direction Tomlinson also shared the link and tweeted “Watching what @MarcusRashford is doing is incredible. Please do take the time to sign if you live in the UK. Our children are our future.”
Defeating the motion was a momentary victory for the Conservatives but this was immediately followed by an embarrassing and potentially damaging backlash. On Thursday 22nd October the BBC reported that Caroline Ansell, one of the 5 Conservatives who had voted in support of the Labour motion, had resigned as parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, expressing concerns that the party was failing “to help lower income families and their children, who are really struggling due to the impact of the virus.”
A day after Ansell’s resignation, Liverpool and Sheffield city councils announced they would be stepping in to cover the costs of free school meals in their cities. This was quickly followed by Wigan, Nottingham, Rotherham and Manchester all pledging similar schemes, working with and supporting local businesses, in order to step in where the state should have.
Marcus, overwhelmed at the response he’d received after he’d asked businesses who were involved in the scheme to tweet him so that he could then retweet their messages to help promote the campaign, wrote on his twitter page: “Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell. I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight.”
Also, in agreement with Rashford are more than 2,000 paediatricians wrote a letter to the government stating “Every day, we see the impact of hunger and malnutrition in our work as paediatricians. It is not unusual for us to care for children who don’t have enough to eat or who don’t have access to a substantial meal outside of what is provided in school.’’
Leeds united football club pledged £25k to help Leeds city council feed the children of Leeds and the Leeds United defender, Liam Cooper, also tweeted “Let’s do this Leeds! No children should ever go hungry. £25k guaranteed from the squad. We stand with you Marcus Rashford,”
A number of local pubs, angry at the shameful decision of Tory ministers who refused to back the Labour motion, announced they’d be banning their local conservative MPs from their establishments and gigs. The ‘Mill & Il Mulino’ in Stokesley, North Yorkshire, even posted about the ban and about their disgust on their Facebook page: “The government voted against extending free school meals. This is disgusting! What’s worse Matt Vickers MP Simon Clarke MP & Jacob Young – MP for Redcar & Cleveland Rishi Sunak all voted against the scheme. DISGUSTING!.. All 4 are now barred from The Mill & Il Mulino for life. I don’t want their business (sic).”
Nottinghamshire English folk punk band ‘Ferocious Dog’ banned their local MP Ben Bradley from their gigs. Bradley is the MP for Mansfield, where lead singer Ken Bonsall lives. Bradley then tried to justify why he voted down the motion by tweeting “One kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel. These are the kids that most need our help, extending FSM doesn’t reach these kids.” But he was then quickly inundated by other twitter users, disgusted by his comments. One person replied saying “£20 cash direct to a crack den and brothel really sounds like way forward with this one” but was immediately rebuked by Bradley who then proceeded to claim “That’s what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did” However, Bradley later deleted his tweets and claimed that what he’d said had been “taken out if context”.
North Devon Tory MP, Selaine Saxby, also found herself in hot water after she tweeted.. “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.” Saxby would later retract her comment in another tweet.. “The portrayal of my recent comments on social media, out of context, does not accurately convey my views – I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.’’
Of course as Marcus Rashford’s petition entitled “End child food poverty – no child should be going hungry’’ reaches over a million signatures (the 5th uk parliament online petition to have ever reached over a million) and the Labour party announce they will bring the motion back to parliament if Prime Minister Boris Johnson refuses to U-turn there’s every likelihood of continued embarrassment and further political damage for the Johnson government.