How Marcus Rashford showed up Tory MP Philip Davies’s insults over child hunger – Tom Richmond

MARCUS Rashford’s ‘free school meals’ campaign has provided another public service – exposing the ‘let them starve’ insensitivity of MPs like Philip Davies.

Handout photo issued by Fareshare/Mark Waugh of England football star Marcus Rashford visiting FareShare Greater Manchester at New Smithfield Market, which is naming a new warehouse in his mother's honour. Photo: Fareshare/Mark Waugh/PA Wire.
Handout photo issued by Fareshare/Mark Waugh of England football star Marcus Rashford visiting FareShare Greater Manchester at New Smithfield Market, which is naming a new warehouse in his mother's honour. Photo: Fareshare/Mark Waugh/PA Wire.

Compare and contrast their rival approaches in this post-match analysis. Rashford is a gifted footballer trying to help those who, like him, grew up in poverty and went hungry. Davies, as Shipley’s Conservative MP, is in a position of authority and chooses not to use it.

Rashford, inspired by his work at food banks, spent lockdown setting up his Child Food Poverty Task Force, sourcing food donations and campaigning to extend provision of free meals to needy school children during the summer. He won – the Prime Minister agreed. Davies appeared to stay silent.

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Rashford is working across party lines, including with Tory Robert Halfon who chairs Parliament’s Education Committee. Davies describes himself as “a permanent backbencher” – a professional Parliamentary trouble-maker.

Manchester and England striker Marcus Rashford.

The Manchester and England striker then wanted this extended to this week’s half-term holiday as the Covid recession bites. Davies and most Tory MPs voted this down, accusing Labour of playing politics as tempers frayed.

Meanwhile an undeterred Rashford inspired his 3.7m social media followers (more than the PM) into making donations, promising free meals and persuading councils to act. Davies was writing insults.

Rashford was engaging with those schools who have made him, rather than any political leader, the subject of lessons and promising to answer their questions in person. Davies, by way of contrast, felt provoked to reply to a 16-year-old schoolgirl in these terms: “You show how intolerant you are to anyone who holds a different opinion to you.”

The footballer stressed no child should go hungry – and it is “never” their fault. Davies, meanwhile, accused his teenage constituent of ‘virtue signalling’ despite having a duty to represent all families in Shipley, whatever their views.

Shipley MP Philip Davies is in a new row over free school meals.

Rashford then began to list every area offering help as society united behind him. Davies claimed he did not know the correspondent’s age and one email should not be taken in isolation.

After playing for Manchester United on Saturday night against Chelsea, Rashford was back on social media highlighting all those making a lasting difference. Meanwhile Davies had replied to another constituent by saying their letter was “utter rubbish”.

Rashford’s tweets were a tour of Britain as he highlighted the positive work being done by local communities and companies. Davies, by way of contrast, told this latest voter that he “couldn’t care less” who was behind last week’s Commons motion. And so it went on.

Rashford has said the public’s response has made him proud to be British. Others, meanwhile, said they were ashamed of the intolerance of Davies at children starving in such a rich country. Rashford says the poorest need the nourishment of one hot meal a day. Davies says the Government has made an extra £9bn available to the vulnerable and he supports children needing help in “the most exceptional circumstances”.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford in the rain during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester, as he stepped up his campaign against child food poverty.

But this is where it gets frustrating – Marcus Rashford and Philip Davies are, potentially, on the same side of if the latter, a former bookmaker now renowned for accepting the betting industry’s hospitality, took off his blinkers for once.

Rashford says, from experience, that children nourished by breakfast, or a warm meal, will be more focused in class and, therefore, their results and prospects will improve. Meanwhile Davies highlights on his website the importance of “helping all our children get the best start in life”.

Rashford’s campaign is above politics. Davies sees every critic as a Labour stooge – Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s default defence. Yet, as faith placed in Boris Johnson by ‘blue wall’ voters collapses, it’s not good enough to say Labour did not extend free meals provision when last in power. SureStart centres were still in place as a safety net – and Covid-19 is a far greater human catastrophe. The London Government can also find money for lucrative Covid contracts with favoured friends while cutting the supply of laptops to pupils.

I also agree that provision of meals should be temporary because politicians and policy-makers on all sides should be working together – as a team – to end child poverty. That’s the goal.

Indeed an editorial by The Yorkshire Post ventured that Marcus Rashford, who is 23 this Saturday, and the Government should join forces. He replied: “And I agree @yorkshirepost. Would love to see Number 10 as part of the Child Food Poverty Task Force. The invitation is always open…” No wonder he’s more respected than any current politician.

But the Government did not accept it. And that own goal – along with Philip Davies’s words as opposed to actions – won’t be forgotten.

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