Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Those Plucky Gurkhas: Sanctimonious Tories Spin On Heels

Many thanks to Anonymous who has picked up my bewilderment at Do Nothing Tory empathy with the Gurkhas and hypocritical self righteousness. Tories of course failed to assist in any way when they were in the chair for 18 years to 1997. Also I suspect my observation that subtracting sentimentality there isn't actually much of a case for anything other than exceptional resettlement for plucky Gurkhas. That was simply not the deal. And the deal was and is already generous, barring the outliers that demand the most attention.

Anonymous simply posted a link to Edwin Bramall, writing in the Independent on Sunday this week. Poor Lord Bramall has had a bit of a roasting from some commenters. To put it mildly. But many of them rather prove his main thrust about sentimentailty.

I may have some observations for later, largely about the wider community of currently serving Commonwealth soldiers, currently numbering between two and three times Gurkha numbers. This being the group Cameron referred to in PMQs today. As if all should be resettled in the UK if they wish it. Liam Fox appeared to kibosh that "thought" within a couple of hours. Appearing to suggest that Gurkhas and others might simply get a leg up of some extra immigration points.

But can anyone point out what is fundamentally wrong with Bramall's insight and analysis?

Edwin Bramall: Don't be sentimental. We have treated the Gurkhas well

Sunday, 26 April 2009

In common with anyone who has ever served with the Gurkhas, I think they are marvellous, the very best and most loyal of fighting men. Some years ago, I became involved in a campaign to help the Gurkhas and some people, – quite wrongly and over-generously – credited me with having done a lot to save them. In any event, I would like to think I could always see myself as a loyal supporter of theirs. I am sure, too, that Joanna Lumley admires them every bit as much as I do, and I admire the conviction she has brought to bear in defending their interests. But I have to sound a note of caution. The deal the Gurkhas have had from the government is nothing like as bad as some of the newspaper headlines ("Gurkhas betrayed" etc) will have you believe.

Apart from their outstanding abilities in the field, for a long time the Gurkhas, to put it at its baldest, offered the British govermnment another advantage: they cost less than their British counterparts. They were recruited on the understanding that they would remain Nepalese citizens. They signed up in Nepal, agreed to take their release in Nepal and were paid their pension in Nepal. And a very good pension it was, index-linked and paid after 15 years' service (rather than 21 for a British soldier). This made them well-off in their home country. They had still further support from the Gurkha welfare Trust, to assist in the event of landslides or other misfortunes. It was an arrangement that suited both sides admirably.

The complication comes when we consider the claims of some Gurkhas to live in the UK. In September they won the legal right to retire in the UK. This went against all previous assumptions. They have never had any claim to live here, and that was never the deal under which they signed up. In 1997, most of them chose to switch over to new, UK army rates of pay, a decision the British government honoured. But the result is that those who want to live here cost the Treasury a good deal more than in the past. Surely, this week of all weeks, we need to recognise that such expenditure must have its limits. The Government's decision last week to insist that Gurkhas should have served in the army for 20 years is an attempt to keep sight of reality. It is only recently, when some have seen how comfortably off some retired Gurkhas can be living in the UK, that others have asked to come. Yet this was never the deal at all.

It has been said that we are only talking about a handful of people – a hundred or so. But the government, which has to live in the real world and try to make the books balance, says the cost could be as much as £1.5bn. That sum, let me remind you, would have to come out of the defence budget.

As I say, I have a greater regard for the Gurkhas than anyone. It is not for no reason that they hold a special place in the nation's feelings. I would be mortified by the thought that we might have let them down. Yet I am confident that, rather, we have treated them with fairness and generosity. And I am also confident that a great many serving Gurkhas regard this recent activism as "trade unionism" that discredits their soldiers and is in any event counterproductive.

I suspect that if I didn't know the facts, I would feel as strongly as some of the celebrities who have spoken so vehemently about the Gurkhas. But the facts, not sentiment, are what needs to be considered here.

Lord Bramall was Chief of the Defence Staff from 1982-85, and a colonel with the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles from 1976-86


Anonymous said...

You've forgotten (along with Mandelson - although I suspect that he has deliberately done so) that Hong Kong was in the picture until 1997.

Chris Paul said...

I've seen this reference to Hong Kong Evan. Though I'm not really quite sure how that worked. I'll try to find out.

But surely you must agree that there is a fundamental problem with David Cameron's opportunistic approach to this matter?

He stood up at PMQs and challenged Labour to adopt the simple approach of letting everyone with Crown Service - Gurkha or otherwise, length of service unspecified, numbers and costs seemingly irrelevant - resettle in the UK.

Liam Fox almost immediately blustered his way to a completely different position to this Simple Pimple nonsense from Cam.

As you may know there are ways and means (now seemingly more codified and adaptive, thanks to Labour) for Commonwealth soldiers to apply for ILR and naturalisation. But there are no promises. No right of abode. Just basically the system as applied to other workers who decide they'd rather like to remain in the UK.

Not as far as I know retro acting. Any former commonwealth soldier not released in the UK, or released here but gone away, would have to gain entry and remain legally for three or possibly five years before being eligible for naturalisation.

Liam Fox seemed to be saying that far from doing what Cam said in PMQs that there would just be some small concession at the margins. The example he blustered out was of some bonus points in the standard points-based entry process.

This Tory position is hollow as hell. IMO.

Anonymous said...

What hasn't been discussed in the Gherka debate is our relationship with Nepal. From what I hear, the Nepalese government are resistant to carte blanche settlement in the UK because they want their people to return home (skilled etc). It's already being suggested that they would be resistent to future recruitment of Ghurka's if we took their people on a permanent basis.