Hard times show you who a person is.
When Emmie Narayn-Nicholas was being treated for leukaemia in the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, she noticed no-one was looking after the mummies and daddies. So, aged 8, she started a charity to provide them with meals and toiletries.
She didn’t ask who they were, how they voted, or if they were good parents. She just did what was needed to alleviate, a little, the problems of people she did not know.
A sick child feeding anguished parents. A rich footballer pointing at child poverty. Both Emmie and Marcus Rashford, her fellow Pride of Britain award winner, are the sort of people who, in a crisis, look at the world and ask themselves how they can improve it for others.
And then we have the sort of people who look at a crisis and ask how they can improve it for themselves.
Those who see a vote to feed hungry children as an attack on their right to feel successful. People who see a backlash against that vote as a political problem, rather than a moral one. The sort who, realising they are wrong, want things to look better, rather than be better.
Tory MP Bernard Jenkin said the government had “misunderstood the mood of the country”. Former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said it was “politically a mistake”. And Mansfield MP Tory McTwatface said he was “taken out of context” when he agreed that food vouchers equated with £20 a week on crack.
It all rather ignores the fact that it’s about morality, not mood; people, not point-scoring; and that food vouchers can’t be traded for drugs, for the simple reason that dealers can afford to feed themselves.
Let’s get this clear. Voting against feeding hungry children is a vote FOR making them go hungry. The money local authorities are using to plug the gap is cash that was intended for other hardships. The issue is not one of politics, or popularity, but about what’s right and what’s wrong.
And to whinge about being taken out of context when even your excuses reek of an over-promoted adolescent with all the wit and personal charm of ear wax just makes it clear, to the world at large and your constituency voters in particular, that we’d all be better off if you stood down to spend less time in your orifices.
Wondering if to feed children during school holidays is not about subbing irresponsible parents, or crackheads, or paying for other people’s lifestyle choices. It’s about why, exactly, anyone has to wonder about it.
It’s about MPs who just voted themselves a rise to £81,932 giving the equivalent of 4.5 minutes’ worth of those earnings to the kids who in the years to come will have to pay for their bad policies.
It’s about parents furloughed on 67% pay through no fault of their own having to pay 100% of the rent, council tax, and fuel bills and suddenly finding there’s little left for anything else. It’s about millions of working families who were already struggling on a minimum wage of £8.72 an hour, or £69.76 for a full day’s work, with the prospect of getting just £10.62 a day on the dole. It’s about the fact those people in this crisis are more likely to be mums, or pregnant, or young, or nearing retirement.
A furloughed minimum-wage mum gets just £5.84 an hour. An MP gets 38 times that, in return for screwing her over.
And she’d have to wait 20 years to earn the £250,000 her Prime Minister once described as “chicken feed”.
If that mum got a £15 food voucher, she’d have £2.14 a day to feed her child. Over a week, that might stretch to a bag of frozen chicken nuggets, a packet of Weetabix, 4 pints of milk, and some wonky veg. A child would still be malnourished on that, still lose weight, still risk growing up a little wonky themselves, but it’s better than nothing.
It is equivalent to less than half of the £4.52 pan-seared mackerel with heritage tomato ceviche, elderflower gel, horseradish and charred cucumber available as a starter in the MPs’ subsidised dining room.
The vote they held was the same as asking themselves whether they’d be prepared to allow just one forkful of their mini sirloin of beef, with mini steak and kidney pudding, roasted baby carrots, savoy cabbage and potato terrine (a steal at £9.19 a plate) find its way into the mouth of a skinny 8-year-old.
And the debate they’re having now is no different to asking themselves, before they do so, whether that child’s parents are virtuous enough to merit their offspring receiving this square mouthful of charity.
Those who question whether the poor should get help do so because they fear it will move the poor a little closer to them. Society’s divisions are beneficial, if your sense of self-worth comes from the belief you are doing better than others. Alleviating hunger means there is less space in which to be such an arsehole.
Confronted with widespread anger over ordering his MPs to vote against feeding vulnerable children, Boris Johnson is not slapping his head and saying “Gadzooks! If only I’d known!” He’s delaying the u-turn until he can find a way to blame Rishi Sunak for it, and Rishi is probably delaying Treasury agreement until he can blame someone else.
So when that u-turn comes, it won’t be because the government realised it was wrong. It will be because the likes of Marcus Rashford – and the thousands of people nationwide now offering their own neighbours and customers a packed lunch for youngsters – embarrassed them. They have not, unfortunately, managed to educate them.
Tomorrow, the people who form this government will still get out of bed and try to cut state help, even though it’s been proven to work. They’ll try to cut the costs of school meals, even though proper nutrition gains a child an average of two GCSE grades and this lot were plainly raised on a diet of stupidity and too much red meat.
And they’ll try to shift blame, even though the debts they’ve incurred, the deaths they’ve caused, the hardship millions will endure this winter, are the direct result of a mindset which asks what it is about the helpless, exactly, that is special.
That’s not about being Tory or Labour. It’s about being in a crisis, and whether your instinct is to help or to hinder.
But in nakedly political terms that even the PM might understand: if an 8-year-old can show you up, if a 22-year-old footballer can be more principled, then you’re going to find out what unemployment with multiple children feels like sooner than you realise.