SARAH VINE: If they close the schools, I'll march on Downing Street

SARAH VINE: If they close the schools again, I’ll march on Downing Street

An email arrived yesterday from my son’s school, detailing plans for the new term. Honestly, Field Marshal Montgomery himself would have been impressed. I’ve never seen so many complex charts and proposals.

But such are the times we live in. The school is required to test every pupil for Covid, and they are clearly determined to do so quickly, so they can get on with doing what they do best: teaching.

For my part, I have stocked up on masks and hand sanitiser and ordered a box of lateral flow tests.

I’m not taking any risks. I do not want my son to miss a single day of school this year because of Covid.

I know a lot of people are up in arms about the fact secondary school pupils have to wear masks in class, but masks don’t bother me at all. Who knows how much of a difference they make — but frankly, who cares? If making my son wear a mask means his school remains open, then so be it.

Whatever it takes: our schools must remain open.

It’s only in the past few months we have begun to register the harm school closures during lockdown inflicted on the nation’s children.

The school is required to test every pupil for Covid, and they are clearly determined to do so quickly, so they can get on with doing what they do best: teaching. Pictured, pupils work in a classroom at The Fulham Boys School on Tuesday

Robert Halfon MP, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said it himself recently: 100,000 vulnerable ‘ghost’ children, pupils ‘lost in the system’. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Not that it wasn’t blindingly obvious what depriving the next generation of their education, their friends, their entire extra-familial infrastructure would do.

I always argued that schools should have been treated as an essential service, like hospitals or supermarkets, and that closing them to the majority of pupils would be catastrophic, not only in educational terms but also — and arguably just as importantly — in pastoral terms.

However, even I could not have anticipated the scale of the damage inflicted. It’s not only horrific high-profile cases such as six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, cut off from teachers and school and beaten to death by his diabolically cruel stepmother; all school-age children have suffered some sort of setback, whether it’s missing out on grades, struggling with isolation, or simply drifting aimlessly, often in harmful and dangerous directions.

Many, of course, will recover. Those from loving, functional families will probably be fine. But there are many who won’t be. For them, school provides so much more than a place to study.

It’s a community, a place of refuge, hope and opportunity. It’s where everyone, regardless of where they come from, gets to work out who they are and who they want to be, find inspiration and learn the fundamental skills that will serve them in life. Take that away and no matter how much potential they have, they will always be at a disadvantage.

Those from loving, functional families will probably be fine. But there are many who won’t be. For them, school provides so much more than a place to study. Pictured, pupils at The Fulham Boys School on Tuesday

It’s up to the Government to make sure this never happens again. It’s up to the teaching unions to make sure their members get vaccinated and avoid playing politics with children’s lives. And it’s up to us parents to support schools and teachers in making this as easy as possible for everyone.

Anything else would be a dereliction of duty. Anything else, and I’ll stand outside No 10 and make a gigantic nuisance of myself.

And if you don’t believe me, Boris, just ask your Secretary of State for Levelling Up. He’ll tell you what I’m like once I get the bit between my teeth.

Boris Johnson treats politics like a ‘branch of the entertainment industry’, says Keir Starmer. Well, they do say politics is showbusiness for ugly people…

Golden age for today’s stars 

Reading the obituaries of Betty White, the American TV star probably best known in the UK for her role in The Golden Girls (right), I was struck by the fact that she was only in her early 60s when the show first aired in 1985.

Her co-stars, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty — now all sadly deceased — were 63, 51 and 62 respectively. Practically spring chickens by today’s standards, yet they were portrayed as grey-haired matriarchs. Can you imagine this generation of post-50s stars — Liz Hurley (56), Kim Cattrall (65), Jennifer Lopez (52) and Jennifer Aniston (52, left) — being typecast in that way? Impossible. Testimony to the post-feminist times we live in — and, of course, the magic of Botox.

Betty White’s co-stars, Bea Arthur (bottom centre), Rue McClanahan (top centre) and Estelle Getty (left) — now all sadly deceased — were 63, 51 and 62 respectively in Golden Girls

Can you imagine this generation of post-50s stars — Liz Hurley (56), Kim Cattrall (65), Jennifer Lopez (52) and Jennifer Aniston (52, pictured) — being typecast in that way? Impossible

Very rich pickings 

The most surprising thing — to me, at least — about the Elizabeth Holmes fraud case is the vast sums involved.

Once described as ‘the next Steve Jobs’, she managed to extract nearly £700 million out of her duped investors, who included Rupert Murdoch, Henry Kissinger and the Walton family, owners of Walmart. £700 million!

Most people if they worked ten lifetimes couldn’t even dream of making a fraction of that — yet these investors had it to spare.

I’m certainly no socialist, but it does make you think, doesn’t it?

The Lib Dems, buoyed by their success in the North Shropshire by-election, have announced that they are targeting 30 Conservative seats at the next election, including Dominic Raab’s constituency of Esher and Walton. 

Having had some experience of Lib Dem tactics in my former husband’s Surrey Heath seat, this is not a threat the Tories should take lightly. At least Left-wingers such as Angela Rayner are open and honest about how much they despise their opposition; the Lib Dems, by contrast, style themselves as the nice guys, the face of so-called ‘kinder, better politics’. But trust me, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Some of the Lib Dem tactics I’ve witnessed over the years make Momentum look like a vicar’s tea party.

Boris Johnson should expect a dirty fight.

Time was, Britain’s trains were the one thing on which you could rely. Now they’re overpriced — tickets in the UK cost up to seven times the equivalent in Europe, and prices are going up by 3.8 per cent in March — overcrowded and, increasingly, as rare as hen’s teeth. Services to my local overground station in London, for example, have not been running for more than two weeks. And over the Christmas and New Year period, Great Western Railway seemed to shut up shop altogether, as far as I could tell.

Didn’t stop the Trainline app from taking my money, however, when I tried to book what turned out to be a non-existent service into Paddington. Isn’t progress marvellous?

Fat lot of good this will do

Here we go again: the Government spending a fortune on an anti-obesity drive, funnelling yet more taxpayers’ money into TV advertising and firms such as GetSlim and Pure Gym.

I’m sure the Better Health campaign is born out of good intentions, and there can be no doubt that, with 63 per cent of British adults overweight, obesity is a huge problem.

But take a walk around any supermarket and the problem stares you in the face: too much cheap, sugar-laden food and high-calorie ready-meals that we simply can’t resist.

If the Government really wants to tackle obesity, that’s where it needs to start.

A tax on sugar that puts the onus on the food industry to keep the content below a certain threshold — and makes healthy eating a cheap alternative to stuffing our faces with harmful junk.

Talking of obesity, I see that a trial is under way to determine if worn-out knee and ankle joints could be given a new lease of life with an injection of fat from a patient’s belly. At last, a use for my mum-tum!

Rocco’s blond ambitions

I wonder what Madonna makes of her son’s portrait of her? It’s not been officially confirmed, of course, but who else could the bare-shouldered blonde ‘M’ be

I wonder what Madonna makes of her son’s portrait of her? It’s not been officially confirmed, of course, but who else could the bare-shouldered blonde ‘M’ be?

Either way, it’s a far less flattering likeness than the heavily airbrushed versions she posts on Instagram.

It can’t be easy growing up in the shadow of such a famous pop star. Perhaps this is young Rocco Ritchie’s quiet — and rather stylish — revenge. 

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