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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star