Influencers, celebrity or otherwise, are often criticised for what they are influencing: the power they wield more often than not used in the service of their own self-aggrandisement, promoting the owning of stuff, looking beautiful and living an unobtainable life. What meaningful contribution there is in this is hard to see.
So it's been inspiring, over the last few days, to experience in real time what true influence looks like, and the positive social impact it can have. All thanks to Marcus Rashford.
For those who don't know him, Rashford is a 22 year old professional footballer who plays for Manchester Utd and England. And on Monday of this week he took to Twitter as part of the ongoing call to extend free school meals for poorer families over the summer holidays.
This is already a contentious issue, with many struggling to feed their kids over the summer break at the best of times, having to rely on food banks and charity donations. Add in the Covid factor, and this summer looked like being a whole lot worse. Yet the Government had declined to extend the programme as, to paraphrase, this didn't happen normally (as if there is anything normal about the current times).
It's a this point that Marcus Rashford stepped up. Coming from a poor background, brought up by a single working mum, he knows what it's like to go hungry and didn't want others to suffer in the same way.
Speaking authentically, empathetically, honestly and bravely (something other influencers, and brands too, could learn from), he challenged the Government to change their mind. And did this very publicly on Twitter.
Many came out in support. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, many others took offence: there was condescension (stick to the football), claims of hypocrisy (as if any solution was one he should pay for personally), and despite/because of the current climate, outright racism. Topped off by the Government declining with a patronising riposte
“The Prime Minister will respond to Marcus Rashford’s letter as soon as he can"
But the fuse had been lit, and 24 hours after his initial post, faced with a debate in Parliament and rebellion amongst his own MPs, the Johnson u-turn happened. That's what influence is about: not photos in the infinity pool but changing the world for the better.
Early on in the Covid drama footballers was criticised by Government ministers, challenged to take a pay cut and do more. They were and they did. Rashford alone had already set up a charity that raised millions to feed struggling kids prior to his recent campaign. And interestingly it was only (predominantly working class) footballers who were called out in this way. There was no mention of bankers and business leaders, earning as much if not more, stepping up to the plate in a similar way.
But then, as Mariana Hyde unpacks here, we shouldn't be surprised: this is a Government of and for the elite, with a complete lack of empathy for and understanding of how real people live and the challenges they face.