ON the same day that Conservative MPs were up in arms at being called “scum” by Labour’s Angela Rayner, they voted against giving free school meals to kids in England over the holidays.

Such language is most definitely unparliamentary and it’s not the done thing in the House of Commons, especially from somebody on the frontbench. The MP who had been speaking when the offending word was uttered, Chris Clarkson, sent a letter to Rayner demanding an apology.

In it, he quoted the relevant passage in Erskine May that warns against such intemperate speech in the chamber.

Conservative MPs may have garnered more sympathy had they not failed so spectacularly to read the room that day.

If the question is “should any child go to bed hungry?” and your answer is “something-something fiscal responsibility feckless parents” then don’t be surprised if the public come up with some choice words which are even stronger than Angela Rayner used.

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Every Tory MP who popped up on TV to defend the indefensible gave a different explanation for why giving free school meals over the summer was the right and proper thing to do, but now it’s a dangerous policy that will encourage “dependency” as one Tory MP put it.

Imagine that. Kids becoming dependent on food. It’s a dangerous road to go down. Next they’ll be saying they also need shelter, warmth and water.

Nicky Morgan, whose greatest strength is surely her willingness to debase herself in defence of her party, offered another reason as to why the UK Government decided that feeding hungry kids is too great a cost.

On Question Time she said more Tory MPs might have voted for Labour’s motion if opposition MPs had been a bit nicer to the poor, bullied Tories.

“I think the Labour Party might have found they got more supporters yesterday if the deputy Labour leader hadn’t called one of the Conservative MPs ‘scum’.”

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed the motion was designed to “embarrass the Government” which I suppose is true, in the same way that a bank robber might complain that their arrest was designed to ruin their upcoming holiday to the Maldives.

It was an unedifying day for a party in crisis as, for reasons only known to himself, Boris Johnson decided that English children living in poverty don’t need food as much as their Scottish and Welsh peers do.

Throughout this, the Scottish Tories were notably quiet. All Scottish Tory MPs voted against the motion, while Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross abstained.

In an interview with The Courier, Mr Ross said he doesn’t believe that free school meals encourage dependence.

Explaining why he abstained, Mr Ross said: “I wasn’t in Westminster [on Wednesday]. I was in Scotland. The only way you can get a proxy vote in Westminster is for a Covid-related reason.

“I had planned to come back long before the opposition debate subject had been decided, therefore I wasn’t in Westminster and was not able to vote.”

Given his remarks from last month – when Mr Ross said “I just want to make sure no-one falls through the cracks and by giving this to all primary school pupils we can make sure the offer is there for everyone” – his support for the motion should have been a no-brainer.

Yet I find myself unconvinced by the reason given for his abstention. While Mr Ross is right that it would have been difficult to secure a proxy vote, that’s not the only mechanism available to MPs who want to make their vote count while away from Westminster. He could have been paired for the vote, as other MPs were. If he felt strongly that his colleagues were wrong in denying English children free school meals over the holidays, he could have vocalised his disapproval on TV or Twitter.

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It is to Douglas Ross’s credit that he resigned from government over the Dominic Cummings scandal. Since then, he has been keen to remind people of that fact, citing it whenever he wants to make the point that he is an independently minded Tory.

While Dominic Cummings’s unapologetic rule-breaking was certainly worthy of condemnation, the impact of holiday hunger on struggling families is far greater than the reckless arrogance of one prime ministerial advisor.

In this, Douglas Ross looks weak at a time when he desperately needs to project strength and authority.

Mr Ross and his colleagues might want to look to one Marcus Rashford for an idea of what real leadership looks like. The 23-year-old footballer, activist and agenda-setter has been an effective spokesperson for change. The UK Government might have ignored him this time, but they have expended political capital in doing so. Rashford remains undeterred and has mobilised businesses across England to step in and fill the gaps left by the government’s inaction. His dignity and determination is in stark contrast to this out-of-touch and needlessly cruel Tory Government.