School Meals. Photo: Cheshire East Council/cropped from original/licensed under CC 2.0, linked at bottom of article School Meals. Photo: Cheshire East Council/cropped from original/licensed under CC 2.0, linked at bottom of article

The callous vote against free school meals is providing a focus for anger and driving opposition to this government, argues Chris Neville

Backlash against the Tories seems to be reaching boiling point across the UK right now. The government’s poor handling of the coronavirus crisis combined with their recent displays of contempt for northern regions has built up feelings of resentment towards the Tories.

The Tory vote against providing meals for hungry children last week was the tipping point for many. Paving the way for the radicalisation of those who would normally adopt a passive attitude to politics, this decision has led to an uprising of solidarity. Small businesses and volunteers across the country have pledged to fill the gap and Tory MPs have been barred from their local boozers en masse.

Marcus Rashford has proven an inspiration to us all. Shortly after the vote was over, he was trawling through Twitter and creating a national database of venues willing to feed hungry kids over the school holidays.

Disgracefully, Rashford has still come under fire from some of those MPs who voted to make children hungry. Ben Bradley, Tory MP for Mansfield, seems unable to stop digging his own grave. Bradley called Rashford out on Twitter for not responding to his messages after Rashford expressed his frustration at the vote.

Bradley and other Tories, in a shocking display of Tory callousness, have also defended their decision by insisting that any support for hungry children would be squandered on drugs by their families. This stereotypical nonsense shows the contempt they hold for the poor and displays a detachment from reality.

Rashford, on the other hand, knows what it feels like to suffer under poverty. He has talked openly about the stress his mother endured to ensure she could feed and clothe her children when he was younger. His childhood experiences, combined with a relentless drive to help others, have shown him to be an inspirational individual. More importantly, he has provided the spark for people to work together in solidarity.

Locally, in Greater Manchester, normally meek Labour-run councils such as Bury have been emboldened by events of recent weeks. The combination of Andy Burnham’s actions in standing up to the government and the huge support for Marcus Rashford has set in motion a tidal wave of defiance.

Councils across Greater Manchester have now pledged to provide vouchers for vulnerable children to be fed over the holidays. The borough councils also recently denounced Tory attempts to divide them in the wake of the government’s haggling around Tier 3 financial support.

Activist groups like the People’s Assembly in Manchester have recently mobilised to respond to the contempt the government has for the North. The speakers at the well-attended demo on Saturday focused heavily on Rashford’s campaign.

The Guardian reported this weekend how voters in ‘red wall’ seats that fell to the Tories are starting to regret their decision, with the wider impact of lending support to the party in last year’s elections now being felt.

As the Tories’ mask slips for these people, we need to focus the growing anger, keep exposing the cruel ideology that drives this government, and build opposition throughout our communities.

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