Daily archives: April 29, 2009

Gurkhas and Jack Straw the Hypocrite

I cannot for the life of me understand the government’s attitude to the Gurkhas’ immigration status. It is an unwinnable political fight in which they have been trounced again, and the Commons defeat today is the most direct personal slap to Gordon Brown, coming immediately after Nick Clegg trounced him on this question at Prime Minister’s Questions.

As in the question of immigration rights for Iraqi interpreters working for the UK, the government has acted ungratefully, against all public opinion, and for no very clear reason.

I am in general an advocate of immigration. But plainly there is much more immigration than the government actually intended. It is a fact that the number of illegal immigrants in the UK is well over a million. I very much support Boris Johnson’s idea of an amnesty to allow them to stay in the UK. I have not heard another viable solution.

But what makes no sense is this. Every time I get on a 207 bus I am immersed in newly immigrant Somali, Sudanese and Russian people, and I appear to be the only person who speaks English on his mobile phone. I am not against that in the least, but if we can absorb these diverse groups with little attachment to the UK, how come we can’t fit in Gurkhas who have a long attachment to this country and have been prepared to die for it?

If the government were taking its stance against the background of a tough immigration policy, that would be wrong but at least it would be intellectually consistent. But to keep the Gurkhas out while letting several million other first generation immigrants in, seems perverse in the extreme.

Jack Straw was sitting alongside Brown in the Commons today. Jack Straw has a deserved reputation as an MP who assiduously cultivates his constituency. I stayed there for four months in 2005 when I stood against him.

I used to line manage the UK’s fifth largest visa operation (in Accra) and so I know my immigration rules. In Blackburn I forged close links with the Muslim community, and a constant theme was their gratitude to Jack Straw for assistance with visa cases. I met several instances of people living in Blackburn who were relatives but not dependants of earlier immigrants, and who told me they had obtained their visas following the personal intervention of Straw when Home or Foreign Secretary. In many of these cases, particularly involving nieces/nephews given settlement visas, I could conceive of no way within the immigration rules those visas should have been given.

Muslim community leaders in Blackburn understood this very well. They were under some pressure from national Muslim organisations to support me because of my opposition to the war in Iraq and to the torture of Muslims – and to oppose Straw for his roles in those things. But they asked me directly how as MP I would be able to help those kind of cases, when I would not be in a key government position like Straw.

I replied that I would be able to help those within the rules by assiduous work, and be able to help in cases of humanitarian concern where rules needed to be bent. But wholesale abuse of immigration procedure would not be something I would do. So they thanked me and did not support me.

So I watched the smirking Straw today. A man who sent hundreds of British soldiers, including Gurkhas, to their deaths in illegal wars. And a man who will not lift a finger to help the Gurkhas, even though he has worked continually to bring more immigrants into Blackburn, for his own political advantage.

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You Are All Going To Die

No, you are going to die, really. I guarantee you that.

I am quite amazed I have lived this long. I survived the real flu epidemic of 1968. I survived the coming of HIV/AIDS. I survived the scares over SARS and avian flu. Now I have to survive swine flu as well. Given the apocalyptic warnings over SARS, avian flu and swine flu, it is quite incredible that not only have I survived them, but all my family have too.

Except, of course, it is all bollocks. Viruses are a fact of life. Death is the most important fact of life. Nobody lives forever. Of course healthcare is important, of course deaths are sad. But the extraordinary over-reaction to a possible flu epidemic, and extreme distortion of the scale of individual threat, appears to indicate a societal belief that death shouldn’t happen at all.

The media projects a fear of death and sickness which is positively unhealthy.

Women get colds, men get flu and governments get swine flu. I expect with almost total certainty that I’ll survive it. If not, I’ll die. So what? I was going to do that anyway.

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Nobody Can Hear You Scream

Just before I gave my evidence to Parliament yesterday, my sister Celia telephoned me to say that I would be speaking not for myself but for all those thousands who had suffered unspeakable torture around the World in the War on Terror, whose screams and sometimes death rattles were heard only by their torturers. She told me I was speaking for those who could not speak.

She put me into a calm place, and I tried to give my evidence very coolly and professionally, but I believe I did manage once or twice to break through the twisted legalese in which the committee have mummified themselves, to bring home the human cost of torture to them.

You can see my evidence here:


If that disappears, Tony has kindly put it onto YouTube which you can find here:


But I am completely astonished, and horribly depressed, that there has been almost no mainstream media of this quite sensational information. There has been not one word in any newspaper or on TV. The Today programme on Radio 4 ran a story on it at 6.45am, but did not repeat it. A piece went up immediately on the BBC website


but it is very difficult to find it there without the url.

I really cannot understand why no newspaper or TV channel has covered what is quite a startling development in a prominent continuing story on the use of torture in the War on Terror.

I had hoped that my evidence yesterday would be a significant step in ending the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture, and of bringing to account the ministers who approved it. But without any sign of public or media interest, the politicians will feel they can safely ignore the truth I told.

I was trying to speak up for those who have no voice. I feel very strongly that I have let them down.

Only their torturers heard their screams, and hardly anybody else heard my voice either.

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