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The government has blundered again over free school meals – could this be because it is led by idiots?

Tom Peck
·5-min read
<p>All that Marcus Rashford is doing for the country is pointing out, clearly and succinctly, how unprecedentedly useless the prime minister is</p> (AFP via Getty)

All that Marcus Rashford is doing for the country is pointing out, clearly and succinctly, how unprecedentedly useless the prime minister is

(AFP via Getty)

When a dying wasp crawls up a shut window, reaches the top, tumbles down to the bottom then tries, tries and tries again until all life has left him, it is not wilful determination that drives him on. It is a lack of other ideas. A wasp is driven by instinct alone. It is biologically incapable of coming up with fresh solutions.

And so we turn to Boris Johnson, who is, yet again, finding himself in a spot of national, if not international, humiliation over his provision (or rather non-provision) of adequate meals to vulnerable schoolchildren.

Look, none of us can say with any certainty how long this pandemic has been going on. I could easily have been 23 when it started. I may be 75 now. The roughly 14,000 identical consecutive days we have lived may actually be only three. Nobody knows.

And thus, nobody can know how many school holidays have come and gone, how many times the government has failed to provide adequate food for children entitled to free school meals, how many times the error of their ways has been pointed out by Marcus Rashford, and how many times they have then been forced into an embarrassing U-turn.

That it’s happening again, right at the moment, is hardly a surprise. Every time a school holiday comes around, the government failing to feed vulnerable children, and then being embarrassed into doing it by Marcus Rashford, appears on the front of the newspapers in time with the circadian rhythms of nature. The first daffodils appear – Marcus Rashford shames the government into providing free schools meals. The cherry trees blossom – Marcus Rashford does the same. With the falling leaves and the first frosts, there will be Marcus Rashford, shaming the government again.

It is rumoured that aspiring Oxford philosophy undergraduates are no longer asked, “How do you know the sun will come up tomorrow?” but “How do you know that Marcus Rashford will shame the government into providing free school meals for vulnerable children?”

Personally, I suspect these rumours are not true, because the answer is too simple. It is that the government does not know what it is doing, from one hour to the next. And it does not know this because it contains within it the very lowest calibre of people ever to hold high office in this country. It is stuffed, from top to bottom, with clearly demonstrable idiots.

It is now a month until the sixth school holiday of the pandemic. And Marcus Rashford is yet again saying, “No, the plan to pay for free school meals using money allocated for a separate purpose, the Covid winter grant scheme, will not do.” At time of writing, the government has not backed down and changed its mind, but it surely will. It always does, and when it does so, Boris Johnson will congratulate Marcus Rashford for everything that he is doing for the country, which is somewhat magnanimous, given that all that Marcus Rashford is doing for the country is pointing out, clearly and succinctly, how unprecedentedly useless the prime minister is.

Government borrowing to pay for the pandemic is now somewhere in the region of £300bn. Thousands upon thousands of pounds of public money have been deposited, almost no questions asked, into the bank accounts of well-to-do people, to tide them over until things are looking better again. I personally know someone who has spent a small chunk of his furlough money on a Big Green Egg, which is, if you don’t know, a large ceramic barbecue that retails for around £1,000.

Can Boris Johnson and co really not work out, even at the sixth time of asking, that there is significant public clamour for hungry children not to go without food in the holidays? Several holidays ago, there was an attempt to have a legitimate public conversation about whether giving out supermarket vouchers, or even cash, was the best way to deliver free school meals. That legitimate conversation was slightly derailed when one especially imbecilic Tory MP called Ben Bradley claimed that free school meal vouchers had become accepted currency in crack dens. Unsurprisingly, he apologised, then went back to saying other equally stupid things on other subjects.

But you don’t get to have the legitimate conversation six times over. When you’ve been forced into a very public U-turn five times over, what is to be gained from resistance on the sixth occasion? And especially what is to be gained when the backdrop to the most recent iteration of this depressing recurring scandal is a large number of horrific social media photographs of meal “hampers” sent to vulnerable families containing half a carrot, some baked beans and a coin bag of tuna, with the missing cash skimmed off the top by the providing company, Chartwells, which is run by a Tory donor. (It is important to point out, at this point, for legal reasons, that Chartwells have apologised for their own egregiousness and are doing all they can to sort it out.)

We are all struggling. Some more than others. There is only so much more of this we can take. There is, quite possibly, a limit to the number of times at which there remains even any residual enjoyment at all in watching your own government humiliated by a 23-year-old footballer in his brief downtime between matches.

Still, it’s Easter soon. It’ll all be over by then, won’t it?

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