Alex Massie

Westminster and Whitehall dishonour Britain again

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Need it be said that the treatment of the Gurkhas - by successive governments - is disgraceful and a harrowing indictment of the civil service and politicians alike? Have these fools no shame? Apparently not.

They came in their Sunday best — a sea of tweeds, brogues and blazers with gold buttons — and mingled politely opposite the Houses of Parliament. There was a lot of hip-hooraying and handshaking. It was the most British of protests.

But while the thousand retired Gurkhas who gathered in London yesterday were certainly British in heart and mind, theirs was a campaign to become British by law.

Last March, the Government said that all the Army’s Nepalese fighters who retired after 1997 would be entitled to pay and pension equal with the rest of the Army and would be allowed to settle in Britain.

For those who retired before 1997, their pensions remained six times less than their British counterparts and they still have no automatic right to stay in Britain. They are campaigning to be treated the same as the other Gurkhas.

“The British Government has always been a champion for equality. Now we want them to live up to what they preach,” said Indra Gurung, 44, who served with the Army for 25 years.

Mr Gurung was among 50 Gurkhas who removed racks of colourful medals from their chests yesterday in what Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, called a “powerful and poignant expression of anger”.

“It’s extremely sad,” said Mr Gurung, as he placed his medals in a leather padded box which Mr Clegg later presented to Gordon Brown. “We are not proud to hand away our medals.”

Yubaraj Gurung, 42, also gave his medals awarded for 17 years of service including the conflicts in the Balkans and Sierra Leone to Mr Clegg. But nothing, he said, compared with this most important of battles.

You might think this was an obvious injustice that is, for once, also easy to correct. But that would be to forget this government's mendacity and the civil service's disdain for anything so old-fashioned or simple as justice and elemental decency. So in other words, don't hold your breath.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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