By Jaya Pathak
"Such fixation on political affiliation and what defines one’s position on the political spectrum has blinded the responsibility of the Tories to act as the UK government first and foremost."
Politicising non-partisan issues has been the only consistency of the current Conservative government. Last night’s vote against the Opposition Motion for free school meals to be continually provided over the holidays, saw only five Tory MPs rebel to place livelihood over politics.
This motion would have provided 1.4 million children who are at risk of hunger with £15-a-week food vouchers during the holidays until Easter 2021. Underpinning the vote for no is the Conservative obsession with government intervention and the welfare state, made clear by the term “nationalising children” used by backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith of Bassetlaw during yesterday’s debate on the motion. Such fixation on political affiliation and what defines one’s position on the political spectrum has blinded the responsibility of the Tories to act as the UK government first and foremost, before serving as a Conservative one. Politics has become more polarised than ever before, and whilst this has always costed lives, this time it will be to the detriment of innocent children and their families.
Yet, as if voting against the motion did not cause enough anguish and anger, the reasoning provided by Tory MPs adds more salt to the wounds. Ben Bradley, MP for Mansfield, engaged in a back and forth exchange with footballer and free school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford, where Bradley stated that a free school meals extension would increase “dependency” on the state. The very premise that young children would have increased dependency is an irrational and heartless argument when referencing those who are far too young to be independent. If Bradley was specifically talking about the parents of such children, he has further proven how out of touch he is with the reality of the current climate. It is no secret that even parents who are working multiple jobs as once still require assistance and are entitled to it. Bradley’s belief that free school meals serve as “ever-extending freebies” cements the fact that holding such abhorrent views makes one unfit for office. The realisation that there are 320 other Tory MPs like Bradley who lack moral conscience is terrifying when they sit at the heart of our democracy, contributing to the formation of governing policies.
Further beyond belief, Tory MP Jo Gideon of Stoke Central voted against the motion, yet is a trustee for Feeding Britain, a charity whose mission statement reads that they believe in a United Kingdom “where no one goes hungry”. Gideon is also Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the National Food Strategy. Abusing their authority, Tory MPs who voted against the motion, like Bradley and Gideon, emphasise the cracks in a system which claims to work for all in society, but fails to. With this government, it appears that holding positions of authority, especially on apolitical issues such as child poverty and hunger, are taken for granted by MPs who abuse their roles. It begs the question of how we as the public can instil faith in our representatives when part of that faith comes from trust in the experience of these politicians.
Does Gideon’s role as both a trustee of Feeding Britain and Chair of the APPG on National Food Strategy not warrant her to vote with the understanding of the difficulties that lie ahead for children and their families, the same understanding she must have developed from both these experiences? In the case of the modern-day Conservative party, it is evident that the answer is no.
"The very premise that young children would have increased dependency is an irrational and heartless argument when referencing those who are far too young to be independent."
Miriam Cates, Tory MP of Penistone and Stocksbridge said a food voucher scheme would only be a “sticking plaster” for tackling food poverty, implying that taking any action at all to support families in the most difficult pandemic months ahead would be as bad as no action, an illogical argument which lacks any sensitivity or urgency to find a solution. Cates’ words ring synonymous with those of Tory MP Paul Scully of Sutton and Cheam’s, who claims that the Government had been tackling the issue of child hunger. Scully’s deplorable attempt at undermining the failures of the Tory government came in the form of his outrageous comments that “children have been going hungry under a Labour government for years”.
Defending your vote to let children go hungry because they’ve been going hungry for a while before, is scraping the barrel. Using the past Labour government as a shield, when Labour was last in power almost an entire decade ago, it not overly surprising, as it seems many Conservative MPs have forgotten that they have been in government for ten years. The Tory party have had chance after chance to find a long-term solution to the increasing issue of child poverty and hunger.
The truth of the situation is that if they prioritised it high enough, and truly cared about doing something, they would have. If they can find millions of pounds to invest in a defective Serco Test and Trace system, they can find the money to stop children from going hungry. It is a matter of political will. Governing one of the world’s wealthiest countries and making the active decision to let children go without food through one of the worst socio-economic climates as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, fits in with the mission statement of the Conservative party. They have the power to do the right thing, they have the money to do the right thing, but they simply do not have the moral conscience to place health and wellbeing above politics.
In 2020 modern-day Britain, let it remain in the history books that it was the Conservatives who chose to not feed our children who require it the most.
Jaya Pathak's experiences as a British Indian led to her developing an interest in the use of education to combat racism, discrimination and prejudice. Alongside human rights activism, she also works with a Holocaust education charity and is the co-founder/deputy editor of the youth-led initiative Yet Again UK.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.