Thursday, 30 April 2009

An exception for exceptional people

Honour is a difficult thing because it is at risk of being hi-jacked by self-interest. I believe it was Ralph Waldo-Emerson who said "the louder he proclaimed his honour, the faster we counted our spoons", or words to that effect. It is in the nature of human beings generally, not just politicians, to seek to win an argument by professing that they should be believed because they are good people.

Honour is not just about what someone thinks of himself or how he behaves in his own life. It is also a substantive concept setting a standard for how we should deal with others. At heart it no more than good manners. If someone acts pleasantly to us we are inclined to act pleasantly to them, if someone goes out of his way to help us we would be pretty shabby examples of humanity if we did not return the compliment when they heed help. Normally these issues arise privately or at local level, rarely do they arise as part of national political debate, but they did yesterday and honour won the day.

Hats off to Nick Clegg for leading the charge and to the Labour backbenchers brave enough to stand up to their bullying leader and whips to do the right thing by the Gurkhas.

For my few readers from outside the UK, the Gurkhas are a regiment of the British army drawn from Nepal (not all members are Nepalese, but many are). Huge numbers apply and few are chosen, they have a long and distinguished history of impeccable service. They consider it an enormous honour to be among the chosen few and act accordingly. Their record of bravery is second to none. Recently the question has arisen whether they should be allowed to settle in the UK at the end of the time of service. The government wanted to impose various restrictions, the House of Commons approved a motion from the Liberal Democrat party that there should be no qualifications. One Labour MP resigned a junior position in the government in order to vote against the government position and sufficient of his colleagues abstained or voted for the Lib Dem's motion that the government was defeated.

It is a classic example of the problem with one-size-fits-all politics. The Gurkhas are not a one-size-fits-all entity, they are unique and dedicated. Their devotion deserves recognition even though they might not qualify to settle here had they chosen any other career. Is sentiment involved? Yes, to a degree. But the issue is much more about making an exception to the normal rules so that we can give a little back to a brave and loyal group who have given this country far more than they ask or ever will ask in return.

The vote is not determinative of the issue. If the government has any honour it will stand by the view expressed in the House of Commons, if it fails to do so it can be assured of defeat when the matter is voted on in the House of Lords. The Commons voted for an exception for exceptional people. For once we have good news.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Actually the calculation is far simpler than that.

As a lawyer, you ought to understand the concept of 'past consideration'. But we will probably need these people in future, so if we make it clear that they are welcome here after X years' service, that will encourage people to join up in future - and that's the important bit.

So the only question is, how many years is "X years"?

Anonymous said...

I have not spoken to anyone as yet who thinks the Gurkhas should not be allowed to stay.

No one, from barmen, white van man, painters decorators, electricians, plumbers, lawyers and policemen has said anything other than "welcome them with open arms".

Gordon "Texture Like Sun" Brown completely miscalled this one.

Dr Evil said...

Amen to that. There is a special place in the hearts of most of the British people for the military Gurkhas. Their record is impeccable, their bravery legendary. Men who would draw their kukris and charge the Japanese lines screaming "Ayo Gurkhali" should be honoured. All those VCs. I think we the people are grateful for their incredible service, but Labour has never been friends of the armed forces. I was glad to see the government defeated on this topic. Now let's hope that they don't try some trick or wheeze to wriggle out of their duty.

Or Joanna will cut their nuts off with that Kukri she was presented with.