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Ayo Ghurkali
April 29, 2009 10:30 AM   Subscribe

In a landmark defeat for the UK Government, the House of Commons has voted to allow all former and existing Ghurkas the right to live in the UK.

The Ghurkas are Nepalese soldiers who fight for the United Kingdom, a legacy of officers of the East India Company impressed by their tenacity in battle during the 1800s. Designated a Martial Race (along with Scottish Highlanders) by colonial administrators, the Ghurkas have been involved in nearly every conflict and military action by Britain of the past 150 years.

Previous to today's vote, Ghurkas who completed service before the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 were denied the right to live in the UK. Following a long-running campaign, fronted by Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous fame, a coalition of Liberal Democrat, Conservative and even a few Labour back-benchers won the vote today 267 to 246, recognising the fundamental right that "a person who has pledged to defend a country with their life deserves the right to live in it."

The campaigners await a government statement on their victory.
posted by Happy Dave (70 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't imagine why anyone in the government thought this was a good place to take a stand against immigration.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:33 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
posted by orthogonality at 10:34 AM on April 29, 2009 [10 favorites]


Too right. These guys are bright, ambitious, skilled and loyal ex-soldiers who have often risked their lives for the UK. It was a disgrace that they were treated like second class citizens - a touch of 19th Century colonialism still alive and kicking in the 21st Century.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:35 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Finally, some good news for the Ghurkas, who recently lost a court case over pensions. (Obligatory list of Ghurka recipients of the Victoria Cross.)
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:45 AM on April 29, 2009


a touch of 19th Century colonialism still alive and kicking ass in the 21st Century

ftfy
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2009


won the vote today 267 to 246, recognising the fundamental right that "a person who has pledged to defend a country with their life deserves the right to live in it."

I'm not one for martialist rhetoric, but damn, it's true in this case.
posted by Sova at 10:52 AM on April 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


Hurrah!

Might as well get something decent in before the transition from mock-Tory rule to actual Tory rule.
posted by Artw at 10:52 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now if only they can sort out troop housing in the British Army. They can't all sleep at the The Boathouse at Hereford.
posted by longbaugh at 10:54 AM on April 29, 2009


Read the article. Read the comments here. I haven't even seen a stated reason, let alone a real and defensible one, that they shouldn't be allowed to live in there. WTFUK?!
posted by DU at 11:01 AM on April 29, 2009


"Better to die than be a coward"
"If there was a minute's silence for every Gurkha casualty from World War II alone, we would have to keep quiet for two weeks."
posted by adamvasco at 11:01 AM on April 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


As mentioned in her IMDB profile (from the FPP link):
"Joanna Lumley was born in Kashmir, India, on 1st May 1946. Her father was a major in the Gurkha Rifles, and she spent most of her early childhood in the Far East where her father was posted."
Her participation in the Gurkha Justice Campaign was deeply personal.
posted by ericb at 11:06 AM on April 29, 2009


About time. It was a complete disgrace.
posted by pandanom at 11:07 AM on April 29, 2009


'The vote is symbolic and will not automatically change government policy, although the Home Office may now find it impossible to resist demands for a radical rethink.'

Still a way to go, unfortunately.
posted by permafrost at 11:15 AM on April 29, 2009


Good.
posted by jb at 11:16 AM on April 29, 2009


I might be US-centric here, but saying that Congress passing a law is "a defeat for the government" is super weird to me, since they are a major part of the government. Maybe "a defeat for the White House" or something would be more likely.

Is "the government" shorthand for "the executive branch" in the UK?
posted by blenderfish at 11:17 AM on April 29, 2009


I haven't even seen a stated reason, let alone a real and defensible one, that they shouldn't be allowed to live in there.

The purpose of the British Empire was purely exploitation. The French at least had a mission of "civilizing" the world, and indeed there are pockets of the world which remain integrated into the French state. In the British Empire there was no concept of equality between imperial subjects and true Britons, and there was no desire to integrate them. Even if a person risked his life for Queen and country there was no reason to treat them any different from the rest of the savages. This sentiment lingers on through government policy.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:17 AM on April 29, 2009


Is "the government" shorthand for "the executive branch" in the UK?

"the government" in this case is short for "the political party currently in power"

posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:20 AM on April 29, 2009


Curse my inverted emphasis!
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:21 AM on April 29, 2009


Um.. who thought it was a good idea to deny one group of people the right to live in the country they've been laying their lives down for, to begin with? Just trying to understand the mindset of whoever brought this up to begin with.
posted by pyrex at 11:21 AM on April 29, 2009


Finally.
posted by WPW at 11:22 AM on April 29, 2009


blenderfish, I don't think it's just the UK. Other parliamentary systems refer the Prime Minister and his or her cabinet to be "the government" (France, Israel, Iceland)
posted by mkb at 11:22 AM on April 29, 2009


Wow. The French? Really?
posted by Artw at 11:24 AM on April 29, 2009


pyrex:

The key word here is "people". Not everyone thinks of everyone else as "people". People get rights. People get rewarded for work and sacrifice. Not-people don't get these things.
posted by yeloson at 11:26 AM on April 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Awesome. Good for the Ghurkas. And not too shabby for the Lib Dems!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:29 AM on April 29, 2009


Calling it "a defeat for the government" in a parliamentary system is equivalent roughly to saying "a defeat for the administration" in the USA.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:32 AM on April 29, 2009


Oh, and they should also get UK citizenship if they don't have it already (like the French Foreign Legion).
posted by blue_beetle at 11:34 AM on April 29, 2009


Yeah, I'm still kind of hanging on to the hope that the Lib Dems can become a significant 3rd party in UK politics, if only to buffer against the Torygeddon to come.

Of course, I'm now one of those horrible expats who expounds on a countries politics without actually living there.
posted by Artw at 11:37 AM on April 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


For one reason or another, I used to be in Hong Kong a fair bit. Just opposite Hong Kong, in Kowloon, there are a tonne of Gurkha offspring who hang out near Chungking Mansions. I had the honour of being stabbed in the face by one inside the complex itself. Immediately after the incident occurred, several of the dude's friends attempted to clean me up. I actually refused any of their help, so that when I went downstairs to the mini police station, I'd look my worst. The cops took me back to the floor the incident occurred on, and had all the Nepalese kneel on the floor of this tight hallway, facing out. Each time a cop would walk past, he'd knee them in the face. Because they use the British legal system, I was able to remain in Hong Kong long enough to testify against the fucker. At first I was pretty happy with the 4 month sentence, then I actually felt quite bad for the guy. These people are totally marginalized, and given very few opportunities. Quite sad really, considering what their parents sacrificed.
posted by gman at 11:37 AM on April 29, 2009


"Torygeddon" is my new favorite word.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


EMRJKC'94 - ironically, the long-term effects of the English approach to colonisation has had more positive effects than the paternalistic policies of the French/Spanish/Dutch. The English disdain for living in the colonies prompted them to educate locals to take on administrative positions in the local government in order to minimize the number of English needed to remain in residence. The building of a transportation infrastructure to facilitate the extraction of natural resources also has had positive long-term effects as well, but that is less unique to the British than the establishment of educational institutions. How well Malaysia/Singapore/India fared after independence compared to Indonesia/Vietnam/The Phillipines is a stark contrast.

Not to say that there aren't negative reprecussions of the British colonial policies, but as far as Imperial British racism towards their ex-colonies goes, it's not without its positive, though arguably unintended, consequences.
posted by ooga_booga at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hell yes.

Otoh, the pensions issue is a disgrace.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2009


Um.. who thought it was a good idea to deny one group of people the right to live in the country they've been laying their lives down for, to begin with? Just trying to understand the mindset of whoever brought this up to begin with.

This isn't limited to the British. See the recent furor over pensions for Filipino veterans. Or the treatment of some of those who fought on the US side in Vietnam.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:46 AM on April 29, 2009


Thanks for the clarifications, guys.
posted by blenderfish at 11:49 AM on April 29, 2009


Is "the government" shorthand for "the executive branch" in the UK?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but 'the Government' would refer to the party in power, whereas 'the government' is a more prosaic reference to all the constituent parts of the national administrative body of the UK, including civil servants and non-political bodies.

That probably is putting too fine a point on it.
posted by Edwahd at 11:52 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aside: blenderfish: voting down a bill sponsored by the party in power (Labour -the Government) in a parliamentary system means that the Government (Labour party) no longer holds a majority of the votes and may fall to a vote of no confidence. The article mentions a contentious vote coming up and the Government (Labour) may not have the votes to get it passed. The simplest way for an American to think about the English system is imagine if the US had no president or senate- just the folks in the house hashing everything out. In the UK some members of the majority party Labour, voted against a Labour bill, so big news. If they can't pass bills there is no other meaningful method for resolving problems, the government goes down and an election is called. Often such votes are a major issue because they are a precursor of contentious government sessions, although this outcome appears unlikely in the near future (just a hunch).

Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali!
"Glory be to the Goddess of War, here come the Gorkhas!"
posted by zenon at 11:54 AM on April 29, 2009


I am literally incapable of working out why the Government thought this was a good fight to have. Perhaps they've been blinded by their own anti-immigrant tabloid-stroking.
posted by athenian at 11:55 AM on April 29, 2009


Although looking at news stories I seem to be alone in that assertion. My A-level politics teacher has failed me again!
posted by Edwahd at 11:56 AM on April 29, 2009


ah - apparently all the other parliamentarians popping out of the woodwork are faster than I.
posted by zenon at 11:57 AM on April 29, 2009


Martial Race is the name of my next band.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:25 PM on April 29, 2009


"That's not a knife, this is a knife."
posted by PenDevil at 12:59 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good. Even if only symbolic it's a damn right place to give the finger to the government.
posted by like_neon at 1:31 PM on April 29, 2009


Who will be the first with a pickle joke?

Oh. Right.
posted by grubi at 1:39 PM on April 29, 2009


I can't imagine why anyone in the government thought this was a good place to take a stand against immigration.

Neither can I. Can anyone explain the actual reasoning involved here? What was their excuse for not doing this? What was their actual reason?

Just seems pretty crazy to me.
posted by delmoi at 1:45 PM on April 29, 2009


Or the treatment of some of those who fought on the US side in Vietnam.

To its credit, the US has accepted a fair number of Mien & Hmong people who fought on its behalf, often in the secret theatre of Laos.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:49 PM on April 29, 2009


Designated a Martial Race (along with Scottish Highlanders) by colonial administrators

Was this the origin of the "Black Watch" regiment? (They've been on my mind since I saw the play of the same name in NYC last fall). Are there any other examples of groups designated as such during British colonial rule?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:54 PM on April 29, 2009


Can anyone explain the actual reasoning involved here? What was their excuse for not doing this? What was their actual reason?

They're becoming decidedly unhinged. Between this, the populist pandering on bank bonuses, the agonising on whether to levy a higher tax rate on those earning £150,000 or £200,000 p.a. and countless other issues, they're so confused by the near-certainty of defeat in next year's general election that they're buying into their own political positioning.

Of course, it doesn't help that they've collectively acquired a severe case of stupid and gone from all spin, all the time to blatantly incompetent media manipulation. Any chance they had politically of turning the situation around dwindles a little more every time they do something stupid. I follow politics here pretty closely, and I can't remember the last clear win they had, which they should be more worried about considering their parliamentary majority.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 1:55 PM on April 29, 2009


To its credit, the US has accepted a fair number of Mien & Hmong people who fought on its behalf, often in the secret theatre of Laos.

If you've ever read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, you'll know assimilation was not easy.
posted by gman at 2:02 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]



Was this the origin of the "Black Watch" regiment? (They've been on my mind since I saw the play of the same name in NYC last fall). Are there any other examples of groups designated as such during British colonial rule?

foxy_hedgehog, check the linked Wiki article on 'Martial Races', it mostly referred to tribes and clans in India and to a lesser extent in Africa.

The Black Watch, like many Scottish Regiments, was originally formed to help pacify the Highlands. It's now part of a single, Scotland-wide Regiment called the Royal Regiment of Scotland, although in practice each Battalion of the RRS maintains the traditions and name of the six amalgamated regiments.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:07 PM on April 29, 2009


"Can anyone explain the actual reasoning involved here?"

From the first link: "We have got to balance our responsibilities to those who have served our country with the finance that we need to be able to meet these obligations - and not base our offer on money we cannot afford."

Typical.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:09 PM on April 29, 2009


I can't imagine why anyone in the government thought this was a good place to take a stand against immigration.

I can't imagine why anyone in a Labour government thought this was a good place to take a stand against immigration!

I await to see what becomes of that party.
posted by popcassady at 3:09 PM on April 29, 2009


About time, Britain. Well done.

Not intending to derail this thread into one on war poetry, but have been drinking and want to post something, and don't know any good poems on the Ghurkas, so one on an anonymous, unsung soldier will have to do:

A Private

This ploughman dead in battle slept out of doors
Many's a frozen night, and merrily
Answered staid drinkers, good bedmen, and all bores:
'At Mrs Greenland's Hawthorn Bush,' said he,
'I slept.' None knew which bush. Above the town,
Beyond 'The Drover', a hundred spot the down
In Wiltshire. And where now at last he sleeps
More sound in France - that, too, he secret keeps.

~Edward Thomas
posted by FunGus at 3:12 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


First, it's an absolute disgrace that those who've served in the British Army don't have an automatic right to live in the country. It's a further disgrace that their pension is not a standard military pension, but majorly reduced on the basis that they're going back to live in Nepal, so is weighted towards cost of living there instead of the UK - even if they do manage to get some form of special leave to remain, or otherwise pass standard immigration rules.

The first reason it's this way is because it's been this way for a very long time. When the regimental base was moved to the UK in 1997 (because of the hand-over of Hong Kong), Labour reluctantly gave Ghurkas after that point (retroactively in 2007) UK-equivalent pensions, but gave them no automatic right to remain. They did not extend it to veterans from before that point, on the basis that they'd agreed to serve in the Ghurkas under the pre-existing terms, based outside the UK, so had no right to expect a change in their favour.

The second is that they don't wish to drain Nepal of its skilled and trained men; many of the nepalese are army engineers or signals, and the theory goes their own country needs them more than the UK does, after their service is over.

The real reason, of course, is money. If they retroactively extend the right to all Ghurkas to move to the UK, many of them now elderly, that means they need to provide housing, medical care and benefits as due to UK residents, along with their families. They would also face near irresistable pressure to increase their pensions in-line for those discharged before 1997 to cost of living in the UK also - and why give these old soldiers something for nothing?

It stinks, plain and simple. The only reason Labour does anything is because they think there's votes in it, and the campaign for equal treatment of the Ghurkas was not seen as important enough to be a vote winner. Of course, when a few wealthy bankers need their pension protected, the government seems more than happy to step in and help out to the tune of a few hundred billion...
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:28 PM on April 29, 2009


This is good.
posted by furtive at 4:30 PM on April 29, 2009


The purpose of the British Empire was purely exploitation.

Really? How are you chaps doing over in North America? When you come back, having exploited the place, it's going to be tricky fitting you all in. Especially with all the Kiwis and Aussies. And whatever South Africans that aren't already here.

All the European empires combined exploitation, settlement, missionary activity, high principle, greed, racism, economics, and genocide. You need to review your simplistic world view.
posted by alasdair at 5:08 PM on April 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


The French aren't exploiting the chocolate producing countries of the world, oh no.
posted by Artw at 5:21 PM on April 29, 2009


Is "the government" shorthand for "the executive branch" in the UK?

Yes. The added complexity here is that there's an overlap of the executive and legislative branches in the Westminister style of government; so the leader of the legislature (as elected by the House of Commons) automatically becomes the Prime Minister. Debates have motions; in effect, what's happened here is that the government-led motion got defeated.

There is probably no immediate impact coz of this particular vote, but votes on certain specific types of motions, like no-confidence motions or, as it is in India at least, money-bills (i.e., bills on finance-related stuff, like the Annual Budget), are binding on the government. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet will have to resign if the government-sponsored motion gets defeated.

In short, it's a big deal. In India at least, members of the Parliament from both Opposition and Treasury (that is, the governing coalition) often stage a dramatic walk-out if a particularly emotive motion is about to get defeated.

On the main topic now... it's interesting, but the Gurkhas are one of those races that are still hired _across_ nations, India, Singapore (and by gman's account) Hong Kong including. I'm not entirely certain what their status is in Singapore, for example, but I know the Gurkha Regiment is particularly valued for its perceived impartiality and disinterestedness in local law-and-order situations, a bit like the Siddhis and their African Cavalry Guards in India, as we saw here a few days back.
posted by the cydonian at 11:01 PM on April 29, 2009


In India at least, members of the Parliament from both Opposition and Treasury (that is, the governing coalition) often stage a dramatic walk-out if a particularly emotive motion is about to get defeated.

Or, I imagine, if a particularly important cricket match is about to commence.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:31 PM on April 29, 2009


so the leader of the legislature (as elected by the House of Commons) automatically becomes the Prime Minister

The leader of he largest party is invited to form a government by the Queen or her representative, by custom. This caused some controversy in the 2005 election in New Zealand amongst some of the loopier righties here, because there was the possibility that the second largest party may have been able to cobble together enough support from minor parties to form a minority government; the largest party, however, got the call first and was able to lure the smaller parties as a result.
posted by rodgerd at 12:18 AM on April 30, 2009


I particularly liked the way the French mission to bring civilisation to the world worked out with that whole blowing up nukes in inhabited areas thing.
posted by rodgerd at 12:20 AM on April 30, 2009


Aside from honour and job security Gurkha soldiers can expect to earn nearly 60 times the Nepalese average wage. For this reason selection is very competitive. The most famous part of this is the Doko race where candidates must run 5km up a Himalayan mountainside carrying 25Kg of stones. Here is an account.
posted by rongorongo at 3:13 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it is prescient at this juncture to mention that other group of soldiers who fight on behalf of the United Kingdom - the fijians. Interesting recent article here that touches on the issues of healthcare, resettlement and why they fight for their former master.
posted by numberstation at 4:09 AM on April 30, 2009


Sorry to lower the level of discussion so much.. but I just love the shouting and archaic customs in the British Houses. Those 2 bows before the Speaker, the shouting of "RESIGN!" to the government.. it's a nice spectacle for outsiders to watch.
posted by Harry at 4:30 AM on April 30, 2009


I am not so sure living in Britain is the reward that the British seem to think it is.
posted by srboisvert at 5:07 AM on April 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure getting to live in Britain is the reward people who try desperately to migrate there think it is!
posted by debord at 7:47 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stupid statements by government ministers attempting to pander to the stupid anti-immigration propaganda gabbled by the press have real world repercussions. For once they actually overestimated the public's xenophobia.
posted by asok at 9:02 AM on April 30, 2009


Hurrah!

Might as well get something decent in before the transition from mock-Tory rule to actual Tory rule.


All this past year I've been trying to understand why Labour keeps channelling a Daily Mail reader every time they have to make a decision, I've never entertained the possibility they believed they were good decisions.

Thanks for that, it all becomes clear now.

I just hope Thatcher dies before the Tories get in otherwise it will be like Diana but with middle-class people instead of chavs. If the poisonous whore gets a state funeral I'm gonna kill Phil Collins.
posted by fullerine at 9:53 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The whole Gordon Brown thing reminds me very much of the Major years - screamingly insane egomaniac leader replaced with someone who lacks all charisma, followed (presumably) by a change of goverment, since the replacement is boring and disliked by both the opposition and the old guard.
posted by Artw at 10:17 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also I'm told that people under 30 do not remember Thatcher and are all rabid tories now.
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on April 30, 2009


'Tis true, they do not remember Thatcher (I am 30, and I do remember her - just). I went to a Question Time session aimed at UCL students this week with Ed Balls and Tessa Jowells. They both referred to the 'same-old' Tories and Thatcher years, but they never explained why the Tory Years were such a bad thing. It's a big scary boggy-man, but no one's telling the kids why they should be scared.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:38 PM on April 30, 2009


The whole Gordon Brown thing reminds me very much of the Major years - screamingly insane egomaniac leader replaced with someone who lacks all charisma, followed (presumably) by a change of goverment, since the replacement is boring and disliked by both the opposition and the old guard.

We already went through exactly this in Canada. The successful and fairly popular Jean Chretian retired and the internal party politics rather undemocratically appointed the party insider and skillful technocrat Paul Martin as the Party Leader and interim Prime Minister.

He then went on to reap what the corruption of long time one party rule had sown and his utter lack of popular political skill meant he was unable to mount any kind of populist recovery.

Political Parties really need to pay more attention to what happens in other countries with similar situations so they can avoid screamingly obvious blunders like this. I think the point here is that you shouldn't short-circuit the democratic aspects of internal party politics in favour of anointing successor from the established power base. Unless of course you want to be the opposition for a while.
posted by srboisvert at 3:04 AM on May 1, 2009


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