Could you explain why you voted the way you did?
I voted the way I did on extending free school meals over the school holidays because the current arrangements were coming to an end. There is a real need amongst families who are already feeling the effects of the pandemic and the economic fallout from that. We used one of our opposition days to have the debate and vote on the issue, which I know is of concern to a lot of people, and which Marcus Rashford has been so effective in highlighting.
What else do you think should be done to help disadvantaged children, at a local or national level?
We need to extend free school meals during holidays at least until and probably through the Easter break. But we need to go beyond that, and look at the issue of child poverty more widely. It is about making sure families have what they need and also to look at how we can support children, many of whom will have lost out most from being out of school during the lockdown.
What do you think of the motion being voted down?
I was disappointed that the motion was voted down but that reflects the fact the government has a majority of over 80 after last year's general election [the majority currently stands at 78]. If the government whips their MPs and they follow the whip then they usually win the vote, if not the argument. To be honest, having helped – as Opposition Deputy Chief Whip – to write the motion I thought the government might order their MPs to abstain as they had done previously. They didn’t, obviously, and are now paying a high political price.
What's the mood amongst Labour MPs about the vote? How do they feel about it?
Labour MPs were united in their anger. Some have taken to social media and all will be working in their local communities to see what can be put in place to help children, even if the government won’t.
What do you think about the government's performance in office so far?
Since the general election, I suppose the government could say they have delivered on their promise to leave the EU, though it is not clear whether there will be a deal. Without one, I believe that is even more bad economic news for our region. With regard to the handling of the pandemic, the economic fallout and their commitment to support the North and 'level up', I think the government has been pretty hopeless. It is hard to recall a government which has been so slow and ineffective in a crisis.
The article in which this interview is quoted can be found here.
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