To all of my UK readers, if you have not seen the BBC production of “The Moorside” please watch it on iPlayer. I have not been so moved to hope and anger by a television programme since “Cathy Come Home” in the 1960’s.
Ostensibly about a missing child, there is so much more.
It is closely based on a real case set in the working class housing estate of “The Moorside” in 2008 Dewsbury. Nine year old Shannon goes missing.
ENTER JULIE BUSHBY AND NATALIE BROWN...
... friends of Shannon’s mother, Karen, (mother of six other children with
Julie promptly starts and organises a “Find Shannon” campaign to which the whole council estate responds.
Shannon is found, hiding beneath a bed with Karen’s boyfriend’s uncle and current lover, Matthew Donovan.
Once Karen is suspected of being involved with her own daughter’s “abduction“, the whole estate turns against her, and Julie.
PERSECUTION AND PROSECUTION
Later in court, Julie is asked to give her character assessment of Karen. She admits that Karen is not very bright, easily manipulated, selfish and totally inadequate as a mother, BUT Karen is her friend and therefore will support her come what may.
In the event, Karen and Matthew Donovan are found guilty of among other things of faking the “abduction” to split any reward money 50/50 between them. They are each sentenced to 8 years a-piece although Karen was released on license after four. In that time, Julie never failed to visit her in prison.
So why have I found this particular blog to be writing itself?
Firstly because the then UK Prime Minister, David Cameron cited this as an example of his “Broken Britain” only later to be forced to make a face to face apology to the real, “we stand shoulder to shoulder and look after our own,” Julie Bushby. (This should have not been a foreign concept to Cameron, seeing how he and his Tories had done exactly the same, albeit for the richest 1% in our country who own more than the poorest 55% put together!)
Secondly, it stirred something within Elizabeth and I. We are both blessed by having been brought up in decent working class communities- Elizabeth on a council estate in Cromer, me in the terraced-cottaged Trafalgar Road in Gorleston. Neither community would have tolerated the fecklessness of some residents of “The Moorside” but would have reacted in exactly the same way in the event of birth, marriage or loss.
Our community, like Moorside, was matriarchal. It had not been Churchillian speeches that had held it together during the war years so much as the “you just get on and make the most of things” attitude of strong women with fixed moral compasses. With their men being away at war and afterwards out at sea they did not give up their assumed leadership that easily! Ena Sharples ruled! (for real Coronation Street fans of a certain age.)
IGNORANCE AND GENUINE GRIEVANCE
The people of Moorside were (are?) very much those forgotten and left behind by post industrialisation. Their response to Shannon’s disappearance in 2008 was very much 2016...ignorant (but not stupid) people with a legitimate grievance like those who instinctively voted for Brexit and Trump, or like those on Trafalgar Road and Elizabeth’s Cromer who in 1945 voted overwhelmingly for Atlee’s Labour Party to bring about change.
It was an early understanding of the connection between ignorance and legitimate grievance that has influenced most of my life. It was the need to help eradicate the former that took me into teaching and to eradicate the latter, into the working class labour movement.
(I might have the middle class trappings of degree, professional career and a home of my own but I rest assured that although you can take the boy out of the working class, you cannot take the working class out of the boy. Oooops! Please excuse my careless use of the “C” word as we all know class no longer exists in our society).
That was why I would have stood firmly with Julie Bushby who provoked another line of thought.
Here, I must choose my words carefully to avoid universal condemnation. There were members of the British armed forces who performed recent acts of incredible courage in Ulster, the Balkans, the two Gulf Wars (including #3 son) and Afghanistan.
I for one have nothing but respect for men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Make no mistake about it but are they truly heroes?
Might not a true hero be defined as someone who rather than shortens another’s life for whatever reason, actually lengthens and enriches it?
Julie Bushby was prepared to stand by Karen Matthews, despite knowing her weaknesses, the terrible deed, how she had personally been deceived by her and in the face of nearly all the estate’s overt hostility, simply because she had so promised.
That, with Julie’s capacity to forgive, showed outstanding ethical courage that within the context of Moorside, was truly heroic. In an amazing act of empathy, she had been able to put herself in Karen’s shoes.
But there again, Julie Bushby was only a poor working class woman living on a council estate…“One of them, eh Cameron?”