At 23, Marcus Rashford is the youngest recipient of an honorary doctorate. When I was 23, I worked at Pret A Manger and spent my entire salary on beer the same day I bought them.
Like Marcus, I was an activist – but rather than launch a successful national campaign to end child poverty, I paraded a lot with slogans attached to pieces of wood and called out. drunkenness of people who had different sensibilities to me from “evil fascists” at parties. (like many people of my generation, I had based much of my personality, with little self-awareness, on Rik de Young people). I imagine Rashford is a bit more of a laid back guest than I was at his age.
Despite the avalanches of “stick to football!” He got from people who appear to have a phobia of children to chew, Rashford held on and stepped forward with such dignified certainty that the Tories were ashamed to drag themselves behind him.
Being only 23 and having absolutely harnessed your power is pretty phenomenal. I was impressed with myself recently for having a guy in the park pick up his litter box without hyperventilating (he did – I’m still on a high).
In his speech at the University of Manchester, Rashford called the day “bittersweet” because it coincided with the end of universal credit (UC) – and his comments have been widely cited since.
I received an honorary doctorate from the University of Winchester and hastily wrote my speech on a napkin 10 minutes before the ceremony started because I was so overwhelmed with the whole experience (and , to be honest, I had undiagnosed ADHD – the impact of which I’m seeing more and more of; the pads have played too big a role in my life).
My comments of “if you want your dreams to come true, you can’t have a plan B!” However, did not make the headlines. My most notable achievement that day, in fact, was explaining to my mother that my honorary degree did not mean that I could now write her prescriptions.
The influential young people who put their heads above the parapet and add their voice and weight to politics are traditionally not from the world of sport, but from music. I was 12 when I heard that Red Wedge, Billy Bragg, Jimmy Somerville and other musicians banded together to politicize young people in the run-up to the 1987 election – and to try to get rid of Margaret Thatcher.
It was the comedy branch of Red Wedge that caught my teenage interest: Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton and Harry Enfield. I had grown up with Lenny Henry, and Phill Jupitus was the cool kid in school. Both were part of the Red Wedge comedy tour, and – very early in my teens – these guys were my “tribe.” They wanted a world that included me.
When you feel isolated, when the government you live under allows for a culture that encourages people to exclude you, the comics and musicians you love to talk about for you is an incredibly empowering experience. Red Wedge was a punk, it was heartbreaking. He told you to be a goat, not a sheep.
The comedy has lost its “punk” allure for now. The history of vaudeville tells us that it is cyclical. Actors have traditionally lent their voices to defend people. The nature of the job is to connect with ordinary people, so of course we give a monkey.
This week my friend, actress Rosie Jones, was on Question time – expose the damage that government cuts cause to disabled people receiving compensation. Rosie herself has cerebral palsy, and Twitter was inundated with the most despicable comments mocking her slower speech. Shocking as it was, it was a reminder of how there are always some who will use their platform to stand up to the powers that be.
Jonathan Pie, the parody journalist created by comedian Tom Walker, caused an internet sensation with his rants against the government in the run-up to the 2019 general election, and has done a lot to engage the younger YouTube generation in politics. He did on YouTube what alternative comedians did on television in the 1980s.
It is much rarer nowadays for musicians to nail their political colors to the pole. Little Mix joined the Body Positive campaign, but I didn’t see any of them get upset at a political rally.
Stormzy resuscitated the spirit of punk on most platforms in his spectacular British performance when standing in the rain singing Blinded by your grace with a beautiful choir, then drastically changed the mood and addressed then-Prime Minister Theresa May directly with the lyrics, “Yo Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell? What, you thought we’d forget about Grenfell?
“You criminals, and you have the nerve to call us savages,” he continued. “You should get jail time, you should pay damages… we should burn your house down and see if you can handle this. “
I was ironing back then and watching the British with my then 10 year old son as this new music giant expressed such a raw and powerful emotion, calling the government of the day ‘criminal’ and suggesting that the Prime Minister be thrown in prison, in front of millions of television viewers. Well. I must have put my iron down for a moment. Once I caught my breath I thought, “They’ve got this. Young people have that. “
Footballers are now rock and roll stars who defend the underprivileged. Traditionally, they themselves have come from the working class and tend to “stay out of politics”.
Other footballers have now stepped out of the ethics of “staying out of politics” and, instead, are speaking out. Gary Neville recently mopped the floor with Edwina Currie, denouncing the cruelty of the cut in UC benefits, calling it “brutal”.
David Beckham was mocked in the ’90s for being “fat” for his working-class accent, muttering lightly when he entered the scene. This same prejudice would not dare to be directed against Rashford.