Speech of the Month, June 2020 - Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford's personal experience packed a winning argument punch. Do you think to voice your personal experiences?

Speech of the Month, June 2020 - Marcus Rashford

‘If your profession comes with a stereotype’ I frequently tell accountants, ‘then try to subvert it during your speech, show them that you can be imaginative and passionate.’ Well, didn’t Marcus Rashford completely subvert the footballer stereotype this month when he succeeded in getting the government to agree to fund free meals for children during the summer holidays? There was nothing entitled, spoilt or crass – adjectives that are often attributed to footballers – in his message and approach. He spoke from the heart (but not in a gushy, weepy way that feels rehearsed), his concern was palpable, as was his modesty. How many other 22-year-olds would give an interview in their slippers? All these factors resulted in him becoming a national hero - and I say that as a lifelong Citizen. 

Let me give you a timeline of the Rashford victory. On 14 June he sent an open letter to MPs calling for the £15 a week supermarket voucher that’s been issued to children eligible for free school meals since March to run through the summer holidays. Early on the morning of 15 June, Boris Johnson rejected the call stating that other measures of support would be in place, but didn’t give any more detail on what they were. Later, on the same morning, Rashford appeared on BBC Breakfast, and then on 16 June, the following day, Johnson did a U-turn and announced that the voucher scheme will run over the summer holidays. So, within a 24 hour period, he changed his mind. What happened during that time?

What happened was that the nation (and apparently Boris Johnson too) saw Rashford speak about his experience of relying on free school meals as a child and, on occasions, going hungry. It was strong, moving stuff; the very fact that he was batting for those children whose shoes he has been in made the interview really affecting. Once people had seen the interview, support for his call grew expodentially. 

So what can we all learn from Rashford’s approach? Well, it’s a reminder to us to talk about our experiences if they can endorse our message or argument. 

In Britain, politicians often draw on personal or family experiences to enhance their cause. Rebecca Long-Bailey can talk with authority on poverty and the causes of it because she came into direct contact with it when working in a pawn brokers. David Cameron challenged the notion that the Tories don’t care about the NHS when he talked about turning up to NHS hospitals with his son Ivan (who had severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy and died in 2009) and being overwhelmed by and indebted to the expertise and diligence he always found there. Angela Rayner, having being raised in poverty and leaving school pregnant and with no qualifications, uses her experience to make the case for Sure Start and better state education. 

Sharing an uncomfortable or embarrassing personal experience takes guts, and this is another reason why Rashford’s message was so potent. Poverty isn’t cool. Admitting you’d hang out at friends’ houses in the hope you might get fed there is sad and, for people who’ve experienced it, often too embarrassing or haunting to mention. Years ago a very astute friend commented, “Poor people will never say they’re poor.” Of course not, because it carries a stigma. So facing down stigma and speaking about an experience that isn’t cool or funny is a brave thing to do. But happily, bravery is usually rewarded. So if you ever have something personal that you could share that you feel is embarrassing or revealing yet illuminates the topic in a way that facts and figures can’t, then please, muster the courage to speak about it. You’ll find yourself the object of admiration, not repulsion.   

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