After Marcus Rashford, cafes step in where Tories refuse to tread | Barbara Ellen

It has been heartening to see small businesses rush to offer help to poor children

Oh dear, Boris Johnson, not another massive public spanking from 22-year-old Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford? Last time, as part of his food poverty activism alongside the charity network FareShare, Rashford, the child of a single mother, forced the government into a climbdown over feeding vulnerable children during the summer holiday and he was made an MBE. This time, the Labour parliamentary motion that he inspired, which proposed feeding disadvantaged children in England during the half-term/Christmas breaks, was defeated by a shameful 322 to 261 votes.

However, huge numbers of restaurants, cafes and businesses, most probably having a tough time themselves, backed Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign, offering food and aid, and councils – even some Tory ones – said they would be helping. Rashford’s Twitter feed became a national information centre-cum-mass outpouring of community spirit. The Tories shouldn’t be ignoring Rashford, they should be hiring him.

It was all so avoidable. Along with the rest of the UK, England could have acknowledged the special circumstances of the pandemic and continued helping disadvantaged children. The cost would have been negligible compared with the vast sums grotesquely squandered elsewhere. Now, as I write, the Tories are grappling with a globally shaming PR disaster. The choice is another humiliating U-turn or a half-term/Christmas of stories about ordinary people stepping in where the government failed.

Not only is this appalling conduct by the Tories, it is painfully incompetent politics.

They were probably cynically banking on compassion fatigue, that they’d just have to huff and puff a bit about “virtue signallers” and the culture wars would do the rest. Big mistake, when hungry kids are involved, and with increasing numbers of desperate families applying for free school meals.

This fiasco also flagged up that many kids were already going hungry. Not only did our country have food banks, some of our schools had food banks, while many teachers routinely have to help feed and clothe vulnerable pupils.

However, the government’s biggest error was dismissing the Rashford factor, which is genius in its simplicity. Instead of engaging in ugly divisive manipulation, Rashford reminded ordinary people of the compassion and decency that refuses to be thrashed out of them. If the government won’t feed vulnerable kids, then they’ll do it. If a young footballer is showing more heart and vision than the government, then they’ll back him to the hilt. It’s the second time the Tories have dangerously underestimated Marcus Rashford, but have they also underestimated the public? It would appear that, after all, there is a last straw.

Yes, they can take Becker’s trophies, but not his memories

Boris Becker
Boris Becker: a global champion. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for the tennis great Boris Becker. The six-time grand slam winner, now sports pundit, who was declared bankrupt in 2017, is accused of trying to hide Wimbledon trophies, Olympic gold medals and other prizes from his bankruptcy trustees.

The sympathy sharply declines when you see that Becker is also accused of trying to hide many other things, including large sums of money, shares in companies and property assets. Next September, Becker will face 28 charges relating to not complying with legal obligations to disclose information, all of which he denies.

It will be up to the courts to decide whether Becker is guilty of hiding assets. Still, the cups, the medals… you can imagine any sportsperson’s devastation at letting those go. I doubt that such trophies are all about money. They’d be more about memories, pride and validation, markers of past glories in your professional sporting life. As the years go by, they would be a way of retaining a sense of who you are, at least who and what you used to be, in Becker’s case, an undisputed global champion.

Then again, arguably, prizes could be the one area where ex-sports stars shouldn’t fret quite so much. Trophies can be taken away, achievements never can.

A female politician shows cleavage? Whatever next?

Sanna Marin
Sanna Marin: trolled for her dress sense. Photograph: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Female politicians are too often damned every which way for their looks and clothing, so bravo to Sanna Marin for shaking things up. The Finnish PM sparked a sexism debate by posing for the magazine Trendi wearing a blazer with nothing beneath.

Before anyone combusts, this is a classic look often seen at film premieres. It’s not indecent, as the breasts are taped to the inside of the garment. Marin’s version isn’t cut that low and is a modest take on the look. Still, she’s been slammed as “attention-seeking” and “inappropriate”, while women pledged support by posting images of themselves in similar attire.

Marin, 34, centre-left, of working-class origin, was already an intriguing political character, but now she’s even more interesting. Why shouldn’t a young, stylish woman wear such a look for a photo spread to accompany an interview in a fashion magazine? Vladimir Putin gets his torso out to ride horseback when he’s in peak-strongman mode and where is his tit-tape?

Of course, Marin’s outfit could be the excuse her enemies need to claim she’s not worth listening to, but why do they get to decide? This isn’t just about Marin anyway, it’s about the Gilead-level policing of whatever female politicians wear. Too sexy. Too frumpy. Too young. Too old… you get the drift. This is why one tends to see female MPs in the UK adhering to a sober dress code. They know that if they dare express themselves sartorially, even to the tune of half an inch of kitten heel (I’m looking at you, Theresa May), they will never hear the last of it.

If Marin has decided she’s not going to be intimidated by the chauvinist political fashion police, that can only be a good thing.

• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist


Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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