Lesley Riddoch: Jade's legacy: a society that can no longer care

JADE Goody is dead and the celebrity culture that created her public persona is already in overdrive. Tabloid and magazine coverage of her funeral will be as prurient, intrusive and watched as Princess Diana's demise.

Jade's children have already become public property with past treatment of Wills and Harry held up as the template for permissible media intrusion.

The father, widower and grandmother – it's up to them. How they play it will guide the media. So said the Scottish Sun editor on Radio Scotland yesterday – and he was speaking no more than the truth. All the adults in Jade's life are now "players" in the "game" of her celebrity death. It serves truth badly to pretend money, fame and media savvy might not be considerations in what they do next.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jade's last rites were performed by OK! magazine in a bizarre and macabre black-edged tribute edition published a week before her death. The strapline "in loving memory" elicited only 60 complaints. No wonder. Numbed by the curious complicity of Jade in her own exploited demise, who could complain? Especially when the ultimate justification was always at hand. She did it to safeguard the future of her children.

Despite all the depressing news of recent weeks, this is the saddest reflection on British society. Jade sold images of her own death to support her children in an applauded act of celebrity prostitution designed to keep her children from the clutches of state care. And the country that created the welfare state just sat and watched.

Who wouldn't do anything for their kids? Who wouldn't sell their soul if it guaranteed their children's health and happiness? And who in Britain these days would rely on the welfare state to provide? Herein lies our shame.

The state should be the universal third (or second) parent for every child – not just for the poor and desperate. It should offer the best care and education available – not limited help with humiliating strings attached. It should be open, free and equal. Not so punitive, judgmental, suspicious and conditional that going on welfare is like going to the Poor House – a much-feared last resort.

We have so completely forgotten what good universal state provision can be that we admire a mother who's prepared to sacrifice every remaining scrap of dignity to amass a private fortune for her sons.

But then Jade knew more than most what "state support" actually amounts to these days. She grew up on a council estate in London, missed school to support her disabled mother and lost her drug addicted father to an overdose in 2005.

Many feel Jade Goody had no dignity left to damage. Many also believe that showering kids with money, luxury, toys and a future of private protection is the ultimate demonstration of motherly love. It's time for a collective wake up call.

The current recession has laughed in the face of every well-motivated attempt to create individual hedge funds against the vagaries of the future. Jade's parting gift to her children could be lost in a badly-judged investment, a bank collapse or a further decline in sterling. And unless she has wrapped the cash up in a water-tight trust fund, it could all disappear in one impulsive act by the boys' guardians.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The prospect of leaving children to the mercy of a hostile, uncaring world is horrible. And it's the principal reason this country embraced the idea of the welfare state 60 years ago. But with characteristic British half-heartedness, we set up a nominally universal system, then shrank from full involvement.

No wonder. The public sector is regarded as so inherently inefficient, unimaginative and complacent that all parties are currently agreed on the need for serious pruning (after this economic winter of course).

No-one believes state provision can be inspirational, top class, innovative, ground-breaking or co-operative. Investing in the public sector is widely regarded as handing cash to the sons of Stalin. And with some justification. If dogs grow like their owners, welfare states grow like their funders – and Britain has been half-hearted.

Mrs Thatcher devalued the currency of all things collective, co-operative, community-based and communal by encouraging the wealthy to opt out. The result is not just financial collapse but something much worse – the collapse of trust in the state to provide.

Jade Goody couldn't trust our society to care for her children. Who can blame her? In Britain we buy insurance instead of acting together to mitigate risk. We safeguard ourselves with individual policies instead of investing to transform our welfare state.

My mother often says: "There are no pockets in a shroud." A woman from the Presbyterian north, she doesn't mean we have money to burn but a duty to pass it on. Scots have long regarded themselves as custodians not owners of land, assets and wealth. Strong state and civic institutions are guardians of wealth as it transfers from generation to generation. And a strong state must cater for everyone to properly service anyone.

Elite exceptions don't prove this rule – they weaken it. Every politician with her own private healthcare plan, every council chief with his own kids at private school, every minister with his own copper-bottomed pension, and every business leader with her own tax haven are living in their own version of the reality television show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me out of here.

If the children of the elite are not lying in NHS hospital beds, sitting in state schools and mixing with every kind of child, the state system will get weaker and the need to create the illusion of protection in a private paradise will get stronger.

It's a terrible paradox.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jade lived through it. Now her children inherit the legacy of their mother's generation, a public world where every gesture is witnessed but no responsibility shared. A shell of a society, no place to be a motherless child. Not even a rich one.