AN impressive young man has forced a far less impressive middle-aged man to make a screeching U-turn. The impressive young man is Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England forward; the less impressive older man needs no introduction to the home crowd.
On learning that Boris Johnson had at the last minute reversed his refusal to provide food vouchers over the summer for some of the poorest families in England, Rashford tweeted:
I don’t even know what to say.
Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.
Before forcing this embarrassing switcheroo on Johnson’s government, Rashford gave a number of interviews that were deeply impressive – and I’m afraid that word is going to be kicked around here even more than Boris Johnson’s reputation.
The young Mancunian spoke with calm personal authority beyond his 22 years about growing up in one of his city’s poorest districts. He explained how his family of five children had been sustained by the kindness of neighbours and the community.
When he wrote an open letter to all MPs to oppose ending the school meal vouchers for 1.3 million pupils in England, he knew what he was talking about; he could remember the hunger and the struggle.
He had already acted on that personal experience by donating time and money to FairShare, a charity that helps feed vulnerable children.
Marcus Rashford might not “even know what to say”, but the rest of us should have no such hesitation. His calm personal authority combined with his power as a famous footballer made the government look shabby and shifty; or shabby and shitty; oh, hell, let’s have both.
It was a mystery why the government chose this hill to fight on. A day before the U-turn, the government had rejected the footballer’s plea for the £15-a-week vouchers to continue, and the usual luckless fall-guy ministers had been trundled out to defend the government’s shameful position.
As late as yesterday morning, the government refused to bow to Rashford’s campaign. By the evening, Johnson announced the U-turn while pretending that he’d not really known anything at all about the whole thing. And if you think that sounds like a spot of post-truth political match-fixing, you’re not wrong.
Premier League footballers clearly have clout and it’s fantastic to see them use their influence for the general good. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, for instance, has often suffered press coverage that veers towards racism. So it has been powerful to see him speaking out about racism following the death of the American George Floyd.
As for Rashford tackling Johnson, it’s easy for a smart young athlete to look impressive against an overweight middle-aged man with fly-away hair. The inhabitant of this ledge would look like a right old wimp next to that fine young man.
But that’s not really the point here.
Marcus Rashford has gone from kicking a football about on the grass in Wythenshawe to playing at Old Trafford; both a short distance and an unimaginably long one.
When Boris Johnson was around the age of 22, he was at Oxford where he was a member of the Bullingdon Club – “notorious for champagne-swilling, restaurant-trashing ‘pleb’-taunting elitism”, according to an Observer report from last year.
According to various contemporary reports, at Oxford the careless young Johnson was pointed out to fellow students as a future prime minister. To which the disbelieving cry of “What, him? You must be kidding” has turned into a joke at everyone’s expense.
Johnson has walked along, or swerved around, a gilded path laid out for him by privilege. Rashford has risen to the top in football through talent – and has mature personal skills that the 56-year-old prime minister couldn’t muster in a penalty shoot-out to save his life.
As many of the papers are predictably putting in this morning: