Janet Street-Porter: Not every mother is from Middle England

Share
Related Topics

A couple of days ago, a conference of headteachers expressed concern that schools were having to instill moral values in their pupils – particularly those from working-class families. A generation ago, parents were happy to set rules and discipline their children, but now increasing numbers of teachers are finding they have to assume this role, as school provides the only stable element in many children's lives.

It is true that a worrying number of young people have zero social skills and little sense of what is unacceptable behaviour. It is not their fault, but it is a direct result of the fact that many never eat a meal as a family at home, never have a conversation without the telly being on and most don't even have one parent looking after them, let alone two.

It is against this background that two distressed single mothers have been given saturation media coverage recently. Both are white, working-class and relatively hard up. On the surface, at least, both seem to typify the unconventional parenting that some teachers find problematic.

Fiona MacKeown is a Romany who grows vegetables and keeps ponies in rural Devon, raising her nine children (by four different fathers) in a collection of caravans with a generator for electricity and a borehole for water – The Good Life, 21st-century style. She decided to take eight of her children on a six-month break to India but it ended in tragedy when her daughter Scarlett, 15, was found dead on a beach in Goa with more than 50 wounds to her body.

We might find it perplexing that Mrs MacKeown was happy to take the rest of the family to a neighbouring state, leaving her daughter behind with friends they had known for only a few weeks, but who can deny that arguing with a stroppy 15-year-old who didn't want to hang out with younger siblings would have been difficult? It doesn't make Mrs MacKeown a criminal.

Authorities in Goa, worried by the bad publicity, say they are considering investigating her for negligence, and the distraught mother has written to the Indian Prime Minister claiming Goan police are involved in a cover-up. On Monday, the Today programme interviewed Mrs MacKeown as if she was somehow to blame – her "crime" that of being an unconventional mum giving her kids a taste of an alternative lifestyle. I was left with the distinct impression the presenters were articulating the moral values of Middle England and The Daily Mail. This mum was clearly found wanting, and yet no one in Devon can find a bad word to say about her parenting skills – her children are said to be polite and well mannered. She is articulate and composed.

Yesterday, Today interrogated another young mother, Karen Matthews, whose nine-year-old daughter Shannon has been missing from home in Leeds for three weeks. Mrs Matthews was asked, "So you have seven children by five fathers?" as if that somehow implied that she was a deficient parent or implicated in her daughter's disappearance. Her distress was palpable.

Why on earth should this woman have to discuss allegations made by her relatives about her partner of four years, a fishmonger a decade younger than her, which hinted that he might have had a difficult relationship with the missing girl?

You would think that, after all the bile that was heaped on Kate McCann because she was too thin, too intense and too well-dressed, we would have learnt that when a child is involved in a tragedy, it is generally not the fault of the mother. This time, their imagined crime is to fall short of middle-class respectability.

Nimbys of the art world

When did our successful artists decide to ape Bono and Co and convince themselves they are our unelected moral guardians? While musicians lecture us about climate change and HIV, the battle to be the next London Mayor sees artists including Antony Gormley donate works which raised more than £100,000 for Ken Livingstone's campaign.

In the opposing corner are Tracey Emin, Dinos Chapman and Rachel Whiteread, who have published a letter attacking Ken for ruining the city with "relentless" development, and enthusing about the East End's "strong social fabric".

They are well-meaning nimbys who don't want tower blocks in their neighbourhood – forgetting that without new buildings a city stagnates and ceases to excite.

* Controversy about badgers is set to be overshadowed by more animal culling. A cemetery near Guildford has been overrun by moles digging up graves. Now the council wants to dispose of the harmless little creatures out of "respect" for the dead.

Quite honestly, once you're dead, you're dead and, if a small, furry animal wants to burrow through your rotting remains, what's the problem? Graveyards are already blighted by a rash of ugly health and safety signs warning us about the danger of falling tombstones, but is there anywhere more romantic and peaceful than a large overgrown cemetery with rampant weeds and happy colonies of birds?

In my garden in Yorkshire, I have installed an embarrassing number of anti-pest devices. As lettuces and beans started to flourish, so did the amount of fortification: rabbit-proof fences, gates that deer cannot get over, nets to ward off pigeons and keep out cabbage white butterflies.

They all look formidable – but I have reluctantly decided that Mr Mole can stay.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: Waiting on the telephone, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home