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Opinion

Feeding children is not about bowing to ‘virtue-signalling on Twitter’

What do we do with the anger when a drive to the end of the world is off-limits? We double down on finding ways to do the right thing, says editor Paul McNamee

On some days I want to get in my car, drive all the way to the west Donegal coast and stand shouting at the Atlantic Ocean.

There hasn’t been much opportunity to do this recently, though there has been a growing need.

Donegal remains, in my mind at least, a semi-mythical place. As soon as you cross the border from Northern Ireland it rises like Shangri-La. The air feels clearer, the light is better, the greens are fresher. And over there, all the way over into the west, you hit the end of the world. The great big Atlantic rolls in and you can stand and roar and there is nothing to break your call until it smacks against America.

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This may be rather rose-tinted. It rains a lot. The collapse of the Celtic Tiger wasn’t kind to the region. And truth is, because a number of people were criss-crossing the border recently, Covid cases spiked.

But we all need a Donegal, somewhere in our mind that is a place of never-diminished promise.

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And this week, that promise was needed.

This is not about bowing to “celebrity virtue-signalling on Twitter”. It’s about doing the right thing

Anger felt at the Westminster government vote against the free school meals provision in England for children in need, during half-term and Christmas holidays, is still present.

It has been said frequently in recent months that people shouldn’t play politics when it comes to finding a solution to the Covid crisis. It has been a useful shield used by the Johnson government.

I have sympathy for that position. See the problem, accept it’s beyond all norms, do all that is possible to fix it.

But the vote was pure politics, arrived at because Labour had proposed the motion.

There was no need to vote against it. Believe that it’s time to become less spendthrift in the traditional Tory mould if you like. Though when you have a Chancellor (properly) offering more state intervention than almost any Labour Chancellor ever, it’s a tricky argument.

Why look like you are so inured to the genuine poverty in parts of the country, so tin-eared to reality, that you make the decision feel like a punishment? It’s two holiday periods, for the poorest children in England, during a pandemic when jobs are being lost at a terrifying rate. It may be true that there are a few feckless parents around. But that should not stop you feeding any children! There are plenty of feckless middle-class parents, but their kids are unlikely to go hungry.

Again, as during austerity, the poorest in society are bearing the brunt.

This is not about bowing to “celebrity virtue-signalling on Twitter” (by whom I imagine Brendan Clarke-Smith meant Marcus Rashford). It’s about doing the right thing. The Scottish and Welsh administrations recognised this and agreed to provide the meals.

It was just one vote in Westminster, but it feels much bigger.

So what do we do with the anger when a drive to the end of the world is off-limits?

We double down on finding ways to do the right thing. We look at the means to accelerate change and to talk about positive possibilities. We address the emergency of now and future-proof for what comes next.

This can sound platitudinous. But it’s really not. For the last few weeks I’ve been in the belly of conversations around these very things with good and smart people who want to get us all out of the weeds, to find practical and workable solutions.

The latest edition of The Big Issue celebrates our 29th birthday. As people often tell me, it’s great we’re still around, but it’s a shame we’re still needed. I know what they mean.

Now we must step things up, through the Ride Out Recession Alliance and through all ideas we can help generate and pressure we can help exert. We need your help. We need you to keep buying the magazine, to keep supporting our vendors and to keep coming with the ideas we can form into a means of tackling the future. On we go.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue 

@pauldmcnamee

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