It didn’t take long for that entirely predictable U-turn on free school meals during the summer holidays to take place. Labour laid the groundwork, then Marcus Rashford ran a short, pitch-perfect campaign and scored the winning goal. Why is this government repeatedly doing it to themselves? They make every inevitable policy change as painful as possible. I don’t think the explanation needs to be any more complicated than pure incompetence. But it is also because ideology holds the government back from making decisions that live up to the moment during this crisis. There lies a lot of hope for Labour. Steve Turner touches on these themes and much more as he kicks off Unite the Union’s new #BuildBackBetter series on LabourList with a piece about UK manufacturing today.
When Boris Johnson giveth, he taketh away, however. Just as we were processing the victory of the Holiday Hunger campaign, the Prime Minister confirmed to the House of Commons that the government would be scrapping the Department for International Development. It will be merged with the Foreign Office in September. In his usual way, employing vivid imagery to make a stark political point in the style of a Spectator column, Johnson described DfID as a “giant cashpoint in the sky”. Labour countered that it was actually “the most effective, respected development institution in the world”.
Keir Starmer observed that this was being used as a “distraction” from government failings on coronavirus. It is a plan long in the making, though: Johnson expressed his desire to abolish the department when he was Foreign Secretary, and remarked last year that it behaves like “some Scandinavian NGO”. The danger here is that the anti-poverty mission will be replaced by altogether less virtuous political objectives, which was the reason that the demerger took place in 1997, and the Prime Minister basically confirmed as much when he addressed the chamber yesterday.
This news makes our next online event a particularly timely one. I will be talking to Preet Kaur Gill MP, the Shadow International Development Secretary, on Thursday at 6pm. Submit suggestions for questions here and remember to visit this page to watch the event live tomorrow. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.