Janet Street-Porter: So what chance did Karen ever have?

Share
Related Topics

The trial by media of Karen Matthews, mother of Shannon, the little girl who was missing for 24 days, continues. Yesterday it was announced that the date for her trial on charges of child neglect and perverting the course of justice has been set for November. Some sections of the press seem intent on trashing the clearly inadequate Ms Matthews just as they did Fiona MacKeown, mother of murdered teenager Scarlett Keeling – unearthing endless examples of her "unsuitability" as a mother.

Last Sunday the News of the World carried lurid, unsubstantiated allegations from the father of one of Karen's children under the banner, "She's a violent, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, boozy slob". What chance does this woman stand of having a fair trial?

Yesterday another newspaper published a "family tree" of Karen and her partner Craig (charged with possessing child pornography) headlined, "Downfall of a decent family". Karen seems to symbolise – for some social commentators – the moral disintegration of white working-class Britain.

Hang on a minute. On closer inspection Karen's background is very similar to that of many people I know, myself included. My father, like Karen's, served in the Royal Engineers. Unlike Karen's parents, mine didn't marry until my sister and I were well out of nappies. In fact my mother had previously married when she was very young, and then dumped her husband when she met my dad. My father, too, had already been married, and both of these first marriages were kept a family secret until I was well into my forties. Dad's branch of my family is still a complete mystery to me. Once, a woman came up to me in the street and announced she was an illegitimate child by one of my close family, and how on earth would I know the truth?

The point is that with a bit of ferreting almost every family in the land could unearth broken marriages, children born out of wedlock, babies given up for adoption and a handful of relatives with criminal records. Show me a family tree that would pass detailed inspection by the Daily Mail and I'll try to find an MP that's never fiddled their expenses.

Then there's the charge that Karen and her relatives face of being lazy slobs. You can't blame poorly educated, working-class men and women for not taking up craft skills when apprenticeship schemes were axed (particularly in the North), pits and factories closed and heavy industry decamped overseas. Where were they supposed to learn the social skills to be at the forefront of new leisure-orientated Britain plc? And you can't demonise Karen for claiming large amounts of benefit when the system (as operated by successive Labour governments) is so open to abuse.

What kind of role models do politicians offer to people like Karen? The Prime Minister talks of understanding the problems of the poor, getting people back to work and off the dole. But the man who promised the end of spin spends as much as his predecessor on special advisers to groom his public persona – the kind of experts that Karen Matthews could clearly benefit from.

Jennifer Moses, formerly of Goldman Sachs, advises the Prime Minister on poverty but is one of those non-domiciled people who pay a relatively small amount of tax compared to their vast wealth. The Government should make it compulsory for all its team to pay all their tax in the UK, to set a decent example to the rest of us. But it doesn't. Benefit cheating? Is it any worse than cleverly exploiting loopholes to pay the minimum amount of tax you can get away with?

Rolling back the sneers

Paul Simonon is that rare creature – a polite, articulate, intelligent rock star who also enjoys success in another artistic field. It helps that he's tall, thin and glamorous, but it would be a mistake to dismiss his stunning exhibition of paintings (at the Thomas Williams Gallery in Old Bond Street, London) as a vanity project.

His subject matter ranges from bull fighters to plates of fish, all unfashionably realistic, and more in common with the Camden Town school of painting than anything Mr Saatchi might be interested in.

We met when I interviewed The Clash in 1977 and Simonon managed to gob very close to my feet, saying little, emoting a kind of sneering superiority. He's certainly mellowed!

* Something strange happened to me the other day. I went to a Mike Leigh film and actually came out of the cinema smiling. I heartily loathed Vera Drake, the story of a back-street abortionist set in a series of dingy tenements. Imelda Staunton has never been dressed more unappealingly for her art. Secrets and Lies wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs either.

Mr Leigh's latest opus, Happy-Go-Lucky, follows Poppy, a relentlessly upbeat primary school teacher, living with a girlfriend in a grotty flat in Camden Town. We are so used to a diet of bad news that the first 20 minutes of the film seem quite unbearable. Leigh cleverly pitches Poppy's character on the irritating side of positive, offering jolly quips to everyone she meets in a way that verges on the demented. But then something remarkable happens. We are subtly drawn in and engaged by Poppy. This is vintage Mike Leigh, because it dares to be unfashionable.

React Now

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London