Rashford takes to Twitter – and he’s unplayable

By Jamie Williams, Senior Executive

“I don’t even know what to say, just look at what we can do when we come together.” 

Those are the words of Marcus Rashford after the Government U-turned and agreed to fund 1.3 million children to have free “school” meals during the summer holidays. 

At the age of twenty-two, the Manchester United striker drew on his own experience growing up reliant on school meals for sustenance to back up his campaign. Writing in The Times, a piece which saw him on today’s front rather than back page, Rashford explained that he knew “what it feels like to be hungry” and went on to explain that his “my mum would go days without sleeping, worrying about how she would cover the next round of bills.”

Rashford’s hashtag “maketheUturn” was trending across Twitter throughout the morning. Remarkably, by mid-afternoon a U-turn is exactly what happened. The Government gave in and has agreed to spend an extra £120 million. Such a targeted campaign, which has exerted pressure on the Government to flip its position, demonstrates the power that celebrity yield in defining, shaping and influencing policy. One footballer has changed the lives of 1.3 million children. I doubt that any other trophy or medal could beat that feeling. 

Celebrities utilising their positions to influence policy is nothing new. Back in 2008, Jamie Oliver’s campaign titled “the Ministry of Food” successfully lobbied Government to ban unhealthy food in British schools. His efforts brought the subject to the front pages and transformed the way schools approached nutrition. Let’s also consider royalty. Princess Diana made global headlines in January 1997 when she called for a ban on anti-personnel devices, or landmines. In a trip to Angola that year, iconic images of her elevated the campaign for a global landmine treaty.  Without her support, the campaign would not have been a household issue around the world.  Just three months after her death, 122 governments signed up to the Ottawa Treaty, to eliminate the production and use of these mines.

Celebrity endorsements in electoral politics can also been impactful, particularly on the other side of the pond. Oprah Winfrey’s support of Barack Obama (before he was even a declared candidate) and her formal endorsement in Spring 2007 and platform appearances was estimated to have been worth 1,000,000 primary votes for America’s first black president. However, in the UK such endorsements are rarely as effective. Take for example the letter of support for the Remain campaign which saw Benedict Cumberbatch, Paloma Faith and 247 other celebrities sign a letter of support. We all know how that one ended. 

To be fair, there are a myriad of celebrity campaigns which never lift off – far more than are successful.  However, there is no doubt that Rashford played a key part in the Government’s decision today. He used his profile and Twitter following to encourage others to exert pressure on local MPs. Enough people made a noise for Boris Johnson to hear and in turn he wrote a £120 million cheque. To put this into perspective, at £120m, Marcus Rashford’s free school meals just eclipses the £116m paid by Paris Saint German for Kylian Mbappe, but still falls about £158m short of the sum the same club paid for Neymar.