Inspirational Marcus Rashford transcends his sport

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IAN HERBERT: Inspirational Marcus Rashford transcends his sport… he has bypassed Westminster alone and left the Government looking remote and out of touch
Marcus Rashford has created a nationwide movement to help the vulnerable
As Westminster voted down bill to extend free school meals, the UK responded
Businesses up and down the country are now rallying behind Rashford’s cause
He has bypassed Westminster and made the Government look out of touch

It is safe to say that the campaign which has seen businesses the length and breadth of Britain come to Marcus Rashford’s aid transcends anything we have seen from an individual in British sport.

Just four days ago, you wondered where else there was for Rashford to go, after the Government had voted down his bill to extend free school meals for the nation’s most impoverished children.

Even then, word came back that this setback had been accounted for. Behind that self-effacing exterior, Rashford is well aware of what his public and social media profile can leverage. He was ready to use them again.

His request that businesses might want to lend the support that the Government refused has effectively seen him bypass Westminster.

Those who know Rashford best say that what we are witnessing here is a force of personality which his mother Melanie has bequeathed. ‘She is formidable. An extremely strong character,’ says one source.

The hope is that the deluge of offers of help, from Brighton to Wigan, Sydenham to St Helens, will continue to snowball this weekend, creating an unstoppable momentum and forcing change.

The message is shrewd and nuanced — appealing to the sense of national pride millions have. As he tweeted on Thursday night: ‘Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know.’

At the end of a week which has reinforced the sense of a North-South divide in this country, Rashford is also thought to be keen to avoid any such impression, ensuring that ‘all communities’ feel a need to help.

There was a time, a few months ago, when some very influential people at Westminster lacked the remotest knowledge of who this young individual, discussing the experience of life in a single-parent, working-class family, actually was. Health Secretary Matt Hancock referred to him as ‘Daniel Rashford’ in one live news bulletin. They know the name now.

Which is why it beggars belief that No 10, Conservative ministers or the special advisers who are paid so very well to ensure that the ‘optics’ are right, lack the basic intelligence and curiosity to find his number, make the call and ask him to meet.

Though the scale of the response to Rashford’s plea even surprised him, the Government’s state of myopia was even more spectacular on Friday. Despite repeated questions from journalists, Downing Street steadfastly declined to praise those businesses flocking to provide free meals for hungry children this half-term.

No 10 would only reiterate a belief that free meals are not needed outside of term time. It was the same when Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote a bleak, cold letter to Rashford a few weeks ago. It was utterly lacking in empathy which surprised Rashford and those he is working with. There was no direct response to his evidence-based requests for three very specific new policies.

He is thought to be sanguine about the fact that the Government did not respond to his initial request for a meeting.

He is said to want to work with ministers, ensuring that the protection of the most vulnerable in this pandemic is not simply left to businesses, councils and random groups chipping in with help, amid the depths of their own financial struggles.

But the campaign will go on, with or without those who wield a parliamentary power. Many of the nation’s influencers also joined the Rashford band on Friday — Shirley Hughes and Philip Pullman were among 200 signatories to a letter by children’s authors decrying lack of provision — leaving the Government looking remote and out of touch.

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