The Gurkha defeat doesn’t make for pleasant reading for those of us who delight in irritating the rest of the blogosphere by supporting our Labour Government.
First – it’s embarassing. Governments with majorities in excess of 60 should be able to muster the bodies to defeat any opposition motion – in fact, the last one lost was in 1978, when the government didn’t have a working majority.
Secondly, the rebellion contains a lot of very moderate and respectable voices from our party. People like Andrew Smith, Keith Vaz and Stephen Pound are not rebels for all seasons: when they stand up and say that there’s something wrong, they deserve fair hearing.
Thirdly, the sight of Cameron and Clegg standing together in the most literal sense outside of Parliament is the starkest sign yet of the crystalization of a political idea in the public mind: that the government is beleaguered, desparately unpopular, and is seemingly set upon certain courses that garner almost universal opposition.
Fourthly – and perhaps most importantly – it was entirely unnecessary. The government could easily have taken the opposite decision on the Gurkhas; in fact, I’m baffled as to why it didn’t. There is no obvious and pressing reason why only a certain number of Gurkhas who retired before 1997 can settle in the UK, and I can’t see what political or policy victory the government thought it could have made out of contending otherwise.
Despite being an unpopular government, we are still just that – a government, and so still able to enact what is our political will. Until we start exercising our political will in ways that are to our political advantage – and, let’s face it, very often what’s to our political advantage on issues such as this is also quite good public policy – rather than seeming to pick fights for the sake of it, our decline may be inexorable.