Boris Johnson, the free school meals game is up. Stop trying to score points against Marcus Rashford

aking the prime minister at his own word, admittedly always a hazardous exercise, there is not that much of a difference between Boris Johnson and Marcus Rashford, apart from some divergence in their fan bases. Mr Rashford would surely agree with the prime minister’s declaration that “we don’t want to see children going hungry this Christmas”. Who does?

In framing the debate in terms of agreement on ends but disagreement on means, the prime minister seeks to both de-escalate an increasingly emotive and politically damaging crisis; but also to avoid too blatant a reversal of established policy. The prime minister, his ministers and his more loyal, and Thatcherite, backbenchers have, until recently, explicitly ruled out extending free school meals to the Christmas break. They may have performed a U-turn in the summer, but it was not going to happen again. Money has been provided to local authorities and through universal credit, goes the argument, and those are the best ways of reaching the most vulnerable. 

The line, with some heavy whipping, was sufficient to see off a Labour-sponsored Commons vote and a nascent Tory rebellion. The use of the word “scum” in the Commons chamber by the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner, provided a helpful distraction for embarrassed Tories. 

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