Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is there any hope for tired, out of touch Labour Government?

If Gordon Brown's Labour Government were a person, I'd probably feel quite sorry for it. It's clearly suffering the symptoms of burnout and stress. It's flailing as it tries to cope with a constantly changing (and not for the better) economic situation. Its ministers seem detached, uncaring and cynical and even the Prime Minister himself has publicly and for no good reason made the most elementary and incomprehensible errors of judgment.

For me, the absolute low came yesterday. I cringed as I watched Phil Woolas stand there and attempt to justify the complete abdication of fairness and decency that was the Home Office ruling on Gurkhas' right to live in this country. To me, if people are prepared to join our Armed Forces and fight for our country, putting their own lives at risk, then we have an obligation to offer them a home. It really is that simple. Instead we have a set of movable goalposts which will exclude people who gave away their youth to fight for us. Accoring to UNICEF, the life expectancy in 2007 in Nepal was 64 years. If someone spent 19 years on active service as a Gurkha, they would have given pretty much 30% of that time in service to our counry, yet they would have no right to live here. Their colleague, with days' more service would. Where's the fairness there?

I find it hard, as well to differentiate on the basis of bravery awards. I do agree that those who show acts of exceptional bravery should have that recognised, but any member of the Armed Forces, just by being in a war zone, facing danger every day, maybe diffusing potentially difficult situations routinely, has shown much more bravery than I have ever done. I actually find the attempt to differentiate between levels of bravery opportunistic, legalistic and quite sickening.

And then you come to the clause that says, "yes, you can come here, but only if you have an illness caused by your service." I've had many and varied dealings with the Home Office in my time, and they don't need much of an excuse to turn somebody down. How on earth is a Gurkha, who may have a condition picked up or exacerbated by service decades ago, going to be able to prove that to the Home Office's satisfaction?

So the Gurkha decision may be the worst, but the Government has dropped the ball on so much else just in the last few months.

Gordon Brown's decision to foist his unworkable plan for MP's expenses on us all just before a perfectly good independent committee was going to work out a new scheme sensibly and rationally, hearing evidence in public was just plain daft. Proposing to replacing one system that is open to ridicule and abuse with another is not the act of someone whose judgement and political nous is in full working order. This come of course on top of their humiliating climbdown on publication of MP's expenses a few months ago. Common sense dictates that if your workload is overwhelming, you delegate as much as you can to somebody competent, rather than try to do everything and achieve nothing.

Then you have this paranoia and distrust over who might and might not be a terrorist. Someone on the Government payroll has come up with a set of criteria which could have air passengers ordering vegetarian meals put under suspicion. Any sensible Minister would have binned that one straight away. They keep the DNA of innocent people and they spend so much on unnecessary and disproportionate surveillance. And what do they do with the information they glean? Well, they just lose it, as they have done with numerous personal details, including mine as a recipient of Child Benefit.

If the Government were a person, I'd suggest a programme of tlc, rest and appropriate complementary therapies to get it back on its feet again. Unfortunately, we can't just give it a cuddle and send it to a health farm. Something needs to happen to get them to regain their sense of perspective, to rejuvenate them and re-connect them with what real life is like for real people. Maybe it's time for fresh legs within their own ranks. The absence of Jacqui Smith from the Cabinet Table would do no harm, for example.

Maybe they should send the Ministers to spend some time doing some work with charities who are dealing with the consequences of their decisions, a bit like the Obama team did the day before the inauguration, to help them get rid of this cynical and distrusting attitude they seem to have towards people. Take them away from the Whitehall and Westminster treadmill and remind them what got them into this in the first place. Send James Parnell incognito to a stressed JobCentrePlus office and let him see what service they offer. Even better, get him to phone up the social fund line pretending to be a client to see for himself the dreadful service his department offers.

Send Housing Minister Yvette Cooper to see the conditions that some people are expected to live in - to visit a family who has been in bed and breakfast or hostel accommodation for weeks or months on end.

We're seeing with this Government what we saw with the Major Government - a complete loss of inspiration and energy. It's not pretty to watch, and horrible for people who have to live with the most severe consequences of their bad decisions.

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