This is our truth, tell us yours
I went into my local supermarket last night. The till staff were all in football shirts, and rattling buckets for a charity connected with Bradley Lowery. If you’re not from the UK, google him. Bradley fulfilled an increasingly common role in British society, that of the heroic sick child. Across the North East he has become something of a folk hero, for no reason other than the way in which he has suffered, and, ultimately, died.
As an aside, my local supermarket is in an area with some of the highest child poverty figures in England. No-one rattles buckets there for the poor, for the kids who don’t get adequate meals, or for the kids with poverty related ill-health. We’ll come back to this.
On the same day that Bradley’s funeral was held the High Court was trying to sort out, again, the cavalcade of wickedness that is the judicial martyrdom of Charlie Gard. Again and again, Charlie’s parents and his doctors are reduced to wrangling in court in a mismatched contest of expertise versus emotion, with the child apparently reduced to the role of a dramatic device through which the adults can act out their chosen roles. Is it wickedness for the parents to keep asserting that they know better than the doctors and the courts? I think so, but I’m aware that view is likely to not sit with with Charlie’s parents, or their hugely generous supporters.
It’s that part of Charlie’s life, the thousands of supporters who have donated over a million pounds, that troubles me. Like the football fans who lovingly sang Bradley Lowery’s name, they’re subscribers to a martyrology of childhood disease, a belief that what matters is the pathological and rare, not the everyday and mundane, like poverty, obesity, abuse and neglect.
With children like Bradley and Charlie, the nature of their illness makes them into objects of veneration, examples of suffering and sadness that elide from our view the millions of children who suffer and die of causes that could be cured, like hunger or need. Nothing diminishes the suffering of parents like Bradleys or Charlies, and I wouldn’t want to, but I cannot help but wonder why they are on TV, and regarded as morally worthy for campaigning for their child, while the poor, the powerless and the inept go unheard.
Children are not to blame if their parents are inept, or feeble, or excluded from the media platforms that Bradley and Charlie’s parents enjoy. Would you hear thousands of football fans singing for Barnardos, the NSPCC or an anti poverty campaign? It is as if the moral lesson from the Bradleys and the Charlies of this world is that even good parents can experience tragedy, and that we can signal our virtues by standing with them, not with the poor. I’m sure this point has been made with less care, with less humility and perhapsless caution by many others, from left and right, but that doesn’t change my concern that, somehow, when we take up these issues, we lose sight of both the welfare of the child, and the welfare of all our children.