It might well be that some former Gurkhas have exercised their right to come to Britain and arrived with unrealistic expectations about housing and subsistence; it might well be that, in Nepal, unscrupulous fixers and middlemen have been exploiting the credulity of some former soldiers. These are all matters that need to be examined and addressed.
But the attempt by the junior defence minister Kevan Jones to imply that problems such as these were in some way caused by, and were now being neglected by, Joanna Lumley and the Gurkha Justice Campaign, was a step too far. There is a distinction between winning residence rights and what might happen when those rights are exercised. And yesterday the minister, clearly under orders from on high and stumbling over his words, issued an apology. It was the second and possibly the last time he will attract public attention.
For some weeks Lumley has stayed quiet about the minister’s remarks and the newspaper stories that have followed, but yesterday she too spoke out against what she called the slurs against her and the campaign. It was a calm and articulate statement that gave the lie to suggestions that she is just a celebrity front person. Once again it was clear that she is an astute campaigner and tactician, which is why sector chief executives voted her in as charity champion in third Sector’s recent Britain’s Most Admired Charities Awards.
For campaigning organisations in the third sector generally, the story has a heartening message. If you have a good cause, and you marshal popular support and get your tactics right, ministers have little option but to bend.
Jones tried to hit back and take Lumley down a peg or two, but the attempt backfired. His is now the third ministerial scalp hanging metaphoricially from her belt, alongside those of the immigration minister, Phil Woolas, and the Prime Minister himself.