Boy already eaten his steamed broccoli as would enjoy the remain

Free School Meals: The Rift Between Experience Based Politics and Ideological Purity

Marcus Rashford MBE’s campaign has surpassed any expectations with the political class and commentariat held. Truth be told, I never expected his campaign to gain any traction whatsoever. But he has proven everyone wrong.

He forced an embarrassing U-turn by Boris Johnson and the government in June 2020 and has subsequently doubled down on his efforts to eradicate child poverty, something he himself speaks of in a reasoned yet emotional way. Despite failing to force an extension of the policy, he has used his high-profile public position to shine light on the exemplary work being done by various charities, restaurants, and cafes to provide free meals in place of the government scheme. He exemplifies experience-based political campaigning.

Experience shapes us all. Whether it be family life, education, work, the area one grew up in or resides, friendships, or sport, it impacts our outlook on life, our political views, and central beliefs. 

Rashford’s campaign has highlighted that some Tory MPs have no understanding of what life on the breadline is like in modern Britain. Ben Bradley, MP for Mansfield, tweeted last week that the extension of free school meal vouchers over the summer were used in “brothels,” and by parents who live in “crack dens.” Only 5 Tory MPs voted with Labour’s opposition day motion, with Nicky Morgan claiming one of the reasons they did not support it because it was “politicking,” and went against parliamentary procedure. A disingenuous excuse.

In my own area, Bury, child poverty sits at 33%. At my old high school, double the national average of 15% of students were receiving free school meals. This provided a lifeline for many children from lower socio-economic backgrounds who were able to maintain a well rounded diet, with breakfast, a mid-morning snack, and lunch. I was fortunate enough to be in a position not to receive them – but I saw the direct benefit this policy had on many of my peers. This is an example of what I mean when I refer to experience-based politics.

Many of the arguments against extending the free school meals voucher scheme relate to balancing the books, the increased injection of funding into the welfare state, and “destroying the currency,” as Steve Baker ridiculously claimed. But with the pandemic deepening, the economy in tatters, with many families on reduced incomes because of the furlough scheme and/or lost jobs, many people are seriously struggling.

Ideological purity on the right, towards balancing the books and reducing the burden of the state, without experience based views like that of Rashford’s, results in policy that is poorly thought out and comes across as misconceived at its best and blatantly evil at its worst. 

Experience can teach advocates of a small state, a completely plausible and understandable position to take, that at times there are instances where concessions are to be made, and the invisible hand replaced with the visible hand, as the five Conservative rebels made clear. They defied the all-powerful Westminster whips to vote with Labour’s motion. 

Despite personal political differences, these MPs set their views on fiscal credibility aside to back the motion and show their commitment to supporting vulnerable children at the height of a once-in-a-generation pandemic, which is only set to deepen as we descend into the depths of winter.

Without experience, our views are undoubtedly limited. We can read political ideology textbooks, opinion columns in the Sunday papers, or attend political rallies and create a world view as a result. What different experience provides us with is empathy and understanding with issues that may not matter to us but matter personally to others. For Marcus Rashford and many advocates of his campaign, this is poverty and the difficulties children face in Britain today. 

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