The free school meals vote was a trap and Boris Johnson led his troops right into it, Report

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Coronavirus UK Updates: Boris Johnson press conference at 5pm
Coronavirus UK Updates: Boris Johnson press conference at 5pm

Whatever else I thought about Boris Johnson, I certainly thought he was a good communicator.

Apparently not. The two big stories of the past week suggest that he doesn’t know how to craft a message, and he doesn’t understand how he and his party come across to others.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham lost his battle with Boris’ government. Tougher “Tier 3” lockdown restrictions were imposed and Greater Manchester didn’t get the money it was asking for.

But he looks like a winner, with the Prime Minister forced to hold a live, televised press conference from 10 Downing Street, begging the Labour mayor to agree to the tougher rules.

Mr Johnson managed both to make himself appear powerless and, when the Government finally imposed the measures, as something of a bully.

It didn’t have to be like that. If the Government is willing to impose tier 3 on an area without the consent of local leaders – which it clearly is – there was nothing to be gained by having a 10-day public negotiation with Mr Burnham.

In the meantime, the view of the scientists advising the Government was that a move to Tier 3 was necessary to spread the slow of the virus and save lives. Even Mr Burnham doesn’t seem to dispute that. His concern was with the funding going to Greater Manchester, not the principle of introducing tougher rules.

Secondly, the Government has handed Labour a stick to beat Tory MPs with, following last week’s vote on whether to provide free “school” meals to children from low-income families during school holidays.

Labour proposed that children eligible for free school meals should receive food vouchers during half term and the Christmas break, to stop them going hungry.

There is a real problem with families who can’t afford to feed their children properly, something known as food poverty. As I reported last year, NHS figures show 160 North East children were underweight when they started school in 2018.

There was never any chance that the Commons vote would help. I’ve no doubt Labour’s leadership sincerely believe the Government’s policy is wrong. It never imagined for one moment that a significant number of Tory MPs would vote against the policy, any more than Labour MPs would vote against Labour policy if the Conservative Party told them to.

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