Last week, on the 10th of June, the Prime Minister was asked by the Leader of the Opposition if he would follow the lead of the Welsh Government to extend the free school meal voucher system over the summer holidays thereby helping over a million children in need. The Prime Minister replied that instead of that, he was announcing that £63 million would be given to local authorities to support vulnerable people. Less than a week later, the government announced that it would indeed extend the voucher scheme. What happened in between?
Marcus Rashford, the England and Manchester United footballer, has been working extensively on child hunger over the last few months. Last Wednesday 10th, he started to get organised and by Tuesday 16th morning, he had organised a round of media interviews and an open letter to government calling for the existing voucher scheme for children receiving free school meals to be extended over the summer. Despite a little wobble, by Tuesday lunchtime, the government had quickly announced their backing for the proposal. 22-year old Rashford was praised by all sides for his successful campaign and for using his profile for good.
This tells us four things about campaigning. Firstly, that reach is important. Marcus Rashford is never far away from the newspaper back pages and (for what such metrics are worth), he has nearly 3 million followers on Twitter. Secondly, a campaign that seems entirely reasonable, e.g. feeding children that would otherwise go hungry, is hard to argue against. Thirdly, that being bipartisan in a highly partisan arena makes such requests sound even more reasonable. Fourthly, that being crystal clear about what you want (an extension of an existing scheme in this case) makes all the difference in the world.
The final point, being crystal clear about what you want, is often the most overlooked in campaigning. Expecting busy politicians, particularly if they are ministers, to come up with solutions to your problems for you is frankly asking too much. There have been many celebrity-backed campaigns over the years, but the successful ones have been the ones where there hasn’t been much of a trade-off involved and the campaign sought a clear outcome. A good solution is one that requires little effort on the part of government (i.e. they don’t have to stop doing something else important to sort your issue out), helps out lots of people (i.e. doing so would not disproportionately benefit a small number) and has support from government backbenchers (i.e. they’re not going to get shot by their own side for helping you out).
Arriving at a crystal-clear ask is not an easy process. Usually, you have to take a long hard look at what’s both practically and politically possible and discard what isn’t. Finding out what’s practically possible means research into details and potentially facing some uncomfortable truths. Finding out what’s politically possible is somewhat harder. It may mean taking soundings from politicians or working with people who know how politicians think and feel. However, sometimes, such as in this case, it doesn’t take a leap of faith to realise that feeding hungry children for 6 extra weeks would get significant cross-party support.
Having celebrity endorsement for your campaign is obviously a good thing to have, but don’t be fooled into thinking that having 3 million twitter followers is the only key to success. Rashford’s campaign was successful because it was well-orchestrated, bi-partisan and, most importantly of all, delivered the government an easy win.
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