Janet Street-Porter: Who can say now that mother always knows best?

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The Independent Online

What damage do you have to inflict on a child – and for how long – to be deemed an unfit mother?

I will never forget the heart-rending image of Baby P, his head roughly shaved, with blood around his ear and chocolate smeared over the sores around his mouth. It is impossible not to cry.

What kind of "expert" could see that woeful little person and not think something was seriously wrong? What pediatrician could examine a crying child and not "notice" that his back and ribs were broken?

I haven't had a child, but I know I could spot a beaten baby better than the lacklustre team in North London who failed Baby P on 78 different occasions. Even when doctors expressed concern, they were over-ruled by social workers claiming that they knew best – and that meant reuniting this child with its mother.

Baby P isn't just the victim of sustained abuse – he died because of political correctness. We seem reluctant – in this case fatally so – to pass judgement on women who couldn't clean out a hamster's cage let alone look after a baby.

This is the true legacy of Sixties thinking – always assume that mum knows best, and always support the underclass. Let's not pass judgement on the fact that their homes contain no furniture other than a telly, a computer, a bed and a sofa. Let's not criticise – as Jamie Oliver so bravely did the other week – mums who don't know how to turn on the cooker, feed their kids takeaways, and eat off the floor. Let's blame it on poverty and deprivation. That's easier than confronting a few unpleasant truths.

Baby P's mum spent hours online every night, chatting to friends, playing poker. Her home was not in a slum, but a decent part of north London. She'd had several children. You can bet she and her friends wore smart casual clothes, and had enough money for booze, fags and recreational drugs.

It's a familiar story. Karen Matthews, currently on trial for kidnapping and imprisoning her own daughter in order to claim a £50,000 reward, had seven children by five different men. Her former boyfriend Craig was convicted earlier this year on 11 counts of possessing child pornography.

The court heard evidence that when Karen was driven to be reunited with her daughter after she'd been missing for 24 days she seemed more interested in the officer's mobile phone ring tone than anything else. That's not a crime, but it does reveal a lot about a particular mindset.

How can social workers go into homes with animal faeces on the floor – and there are small children living there – and think that's acceptable? Another indicator of warped values is the revelation that Baby P was thought safe with a young friend of his mum's – a girl with zero experience of child care.

My eyes were opened to this world when I spent a couple of weeks working in Barnsley General Hospital, for a television series about the NHS. I would ask girls about to give birth if they'd even been to anti-natal class. They'd proudly say no, but they knew all the terminology. They wanted an epidural, they didn't want to breast feed. Yet at the same time they hadn't a clue how to sterilise a bottle.

There was a list in code on the office wall of women known to the police and social services – women who would turn up, have their babies, and then disappear, reappearing a year later pregnant by a different man.

It now costs a lot of money to take children into care, which is one reason why local authorities are reluctant to act. Iain Duncan Smith thinks that every time you do this some young mums will just have another baby – undoubtedly true.

If single mums had to live together in hostels rather than flats, would that teach them cooking and mothering skills? Why should they automatically receive their own flat? As a nation, we dig deep in our pocket to help kids – Children in Need raised a record £20 million last Friday – but it was too late for Baby P. We need to become a nation of busybodies, and not feel that a beaten, dying baby is best left to the professionals.

The experts don't understand what makes 'Strictly' memorable

Strictly Come Dancing is the most watched television format in the world, but the judges in Britain suffer from the misapprehension that the public tune in to watch them, rather than the hard-working contestants. The truth is most viewers wouldn't recognise these petty dictators if they were on the tills at Tesco.

Furious that their judgement has been called into question by the ordinary viewing public, the judges are whingeing that dancing pig John Sergeant continues to sail through every round, boosted by the support of thousands of viewers, in spite of receiving rock-bottom votes from the professionals.

Judge Arlene Phillips claims she'd be desolate if Sergeant won. Get a grip, love! It's only entertainment! The weakest part of the show is when the cameras go backstage to catch the judges chatting while clutching their glasses of BBC plonk. They come across as stilted and corny.

Bruno was once a backing dancer for Bananarama, and craggy Cockney Len's career was confined to dance before he got his TV break at 59. It's the celebrities who make the show unmissable, not Len and co.

Charles needs to earn his right to opinions

Prince Charles has let it be known that he'd like to continue to voice his opinions when he ascends to the throne. He's surrounded by sycophants too craven to tell him that succeeding to a non-elected publicly funded sinecure on account of your blood-line and not your brain cells doesn't entitle you to sound off to the very people whose taxes are paying towards your comfortable lifestyle. If Charles turned Buckingham Palace into a hostel for the homeless, and gave Sandringham or Balmoral to the National Trust, then I'd be more sympathetic.