Marcus Rashford, Dominic Cummings or Boris Johnson, who is PM? – Tom Richmond

Manchetsre United and England striker Marcus Rashford.Manchetsre United and England striker Marcus Rashford.
Manchetsre United and England striker Marcus Rashford.
MARCUS Rashford certainly scored a rare “away” win at Westminster for the North – and the poverty-stricken – when a flat-footed Boris Johnson had to make a hasty U-turn on the provision of school meal vouchers this summer.

It was a case of Johnson O, Rashford 1, as the Manchester United and England striker, a calm voice of compassion who has been repaying the food banks that kept him fed in childhood, used his profile, and immense social media following, to mobilise the level of support that few, if any, politicians at Westminster can command.

Yet, while Rashford, 22, showed great humility after Ministers confirmed an extra £120m would be made available before being called “Daniel Rashford” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, it is the tactics of the PM which are so questionable following yet another political own goal.

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Why? At Tuesday evening’s 10 Downing Street briefing on Covid-19, Johnson let slip that he had not been aware of the footballer’s campaign until lunchtime on that day and that he then acted decisively before phoning Rashford to congratulate the player.

Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions.Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions.
Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions.

It was a puzzling defence. If you recall, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had used his final question at Prime Minister’s Questions the preceding Wednesday to ask the Tory leader about provision of vouchers for 1.3 million children in low-income families.

This is what Mr Johnson said in response: “Of course, we do not normally continue with free school meals over the summer holidays, and I am sure that is right.” He then suggested the “wobbling and tergiversation of the Labour party” was effectively undermining the national effort.

But given Rashford posted his incredibly articulate open letter to all MPs online early on Monday, and that it soon attracted national and international publicity, why did the PM not appreciate its significance until 36 hours later?

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I’d hate to think he’s suffering from amnesia. But, accepting that Mr Johnson was preoccupied by the Government’s continuing response to Covid-19, what does it say about the judgment of Dominic Cummings, and others, who 
are paid to advise the PM? Had they 
taken their eyes off the ball or did they not care?

Marcus Rashford is a child poverty campaigner.Marcus Rashford is a child poverty campaigner.
Marcus Rashford is a child poverty campaigner.

Now it is the answer to that quandary which will reveal whether this was a one-off misjudgment – or whether the PM, a newspaper columnist who did find the time to write a lengthy tome last weekend, and his team are out of touch and more like Downing Street Disunited.

This brings me to my final point. Though this battle between the number 10s of Old Trafford and Downing Street was portrayed as ‘Rasford 1, Johnson 0’, the result – in social and economic terms – was effectively ‘State Intervention 1, Family Responsibility 0’.

Now a precedent has been set, the Government will struggle to resist calls to fund free school meals during future holidays – and there’s a risk that a minority of parents will abdicate their responsibilities in the belief that Ministers will provide that safety net.

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On that, there are no easy answers. But the original objective – the elimination of child poverty and hunger – stands and requires a far greater focus as the aftereffects of Covid-19 takes their toll on contemporary society.

And that means the Government working with footballers like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and many others, players who know all about poverty and hardship, rather than ridiculing them at the start of the pandemic for financial greed, as the aforementioned Matt Hancock did weeks ago, before becoming sycophantic in their praise. This is not the time – or issue – for political pointscoring.

I NEARLY fell off my seat in shock when I heard the ‘Small Business Minister’ interviewed on national radio earlier this week.

He goes by the name Paul Scully and then popped up in the Commons at Women and Equalities Questions. Mr Scully, where have you been?

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Assuming this role isn’t tokenism, the Minister should be front and centre of the Government’s business response to Covid–19.

NO wonder Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, momentarily mixed up Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions.

What do you expect when the Prime Minister wants the Opposition leader to answer questions and the Opposition leader wants to be Prime Minister? So much for constructive politics...

MORE distraction tactics from Boris Johnson as he talks up the possibility of ‘tough’ new laws for anyone convicted of defacing monuments and statues. Why? The maximum sentence for those convicted of criminal damage is already 10 years. The issue is not the law; it is the reluctance of courts to use their sentencing powers.

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THE fly-on-the-wall TV series about TransPennine Express, called The Railway 24/7, has already confirmed what many have suspected – dedicated staff let down by inept managers and a Victorian rail network not fit for 21st century demand. Yet, if the Government wants any further proof about the need up to upgrade the Leeds to Manchester link as a matter of national urgency, this is it.

FINALLY some words of praise. First my local binmen. They’ve not missed a round since lockdown – it’s just a shame that the lifting of restrictions has led to a proliferation of litter at parks. I despair.

Second, St James’s Hospital in Leeds. Let me reassure you, from experience this week, that staff could not have done more to make patients, and others, feel welcome and safe. A credit to the NHS.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

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James Mitchinson


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