And so it begins. President Trump’s decision to temporarily stop immigration from a small number of Muslim nations has already caused havoc and mayhem. Most of the outrage seems to be directed at the banning of Green Card holders from re-entering the United States, with a sprinkling of horror in Britain about prominent foreigners like Sir (sic) ‘Mo’ Farah being forced to delay any hypothetical travel plans. My heart goes out to these poor lambs, forcibly separated from the Land of Lost Content, of corn-syrup sodas and strip-malls, like our first parents being barred from the Gates of Eden by an angel wielding a fiery sword.
The other angle of attack seems to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day. Twitter accounts have been churning out pictures of Jews who were not allowed entry into the United States and subsequently died. Even seen from a non-political viewpoint, this is rather odd. Surely the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Imperial and American forces in destroying Nazism is ‘atonement’ enough. But not even the excuse of having fought Hitler is enough to wash out the stain of racism. Americans have a hereditary responsibility for something that Germans did.
I have read, on separate occasions, British Jews bemoaning their fate as the boring, stodgy neighbours of their sexier Continental and American counterparts. In Britain there were no death camps, no real prejudices aside from a slightly genteel Anti-Semitism; we had Jewish Peers of the Realm, Disraeli, and so on. One writer wistfully lamented that it was very hard to get sympathy in the post-war years from people who had spent six years fighting the Germans. American Jews were free to express their Yiddishkeit in the ethnic ferment of New York, free to be money-grubbing, free to be loud and unabashedly Hebraic. Jews in Britain, arriving in an old and settled culture, were forced to be restrained, quiet and less Jewish. As Linda Grant put it, Jewish behaviour is everything that Englishness is not. So even though Jews have never been treated badly in England, there has always been a sense of being constrained by the imposition of alien manners.
So even England is attacked as racist for not allowing invaders at Calais to swarm into the country. I have no doubt that the emigration of Jews in the Edwardian era and from the 1930s onwards was seen by some as an act of charity. The first generation was often grateful. But their children and grandchildren began to redefine England in their own image:
‘This was our Englishness and it wasn’t English at all. It was unrecognizable. Not until I read Philip Roth’s novel, American Pastoral, with its portrait of the Lvov family and their Newark glove-making business did I realize that my family and all the families around us were Americans trapped inside a carapace of Englishness. They spoke like Scousers. They were loyal to the King. They followed football, not baseball. Behind their parents’ backs they guiltily ate fish and chips, fried in god-knows-what kind of fat. They had endured the May blitz of 1941. Their theme tune was not Glenn Miller‘s ‘In the Mood’, it was Vera Lynne’s ‘White Cliffs of Dover’. Their hero wasn’t Roosevelt but Churchill, not because he was a Conservative, but because he had refused to appease Hitler. Unlike the American Jews – for whom being Jewish and being Democrat were indivisible – they would continue to vote Conservative after the war, because it was in the business interest and they were smart enough to know that, if you were a boss, you voted for the bosses’ party, not the unions’ party; the English political system remained embedded in the class system, which they did not feel should bind them. Their champion was Margaret Thatcher and her old Estonian cabinet, the daughter of a shopkeeper, who also aspired way beyond her class, got an education and married a millionaire (though they didn’t like what she did to the miners, nebach).
But all of this is just culture. Inside themselves, their true selves, they were really Americans. They were seizers of opportunity, optimists, believers in a dream that you were making something of yourselves, that success was always possible with a hard enough work ethic, and that your children could shoot for the stars. In Roth’s fiction, these ambitions attach themselves to the idea of America; in the lives of my family, they had somehow to find a way of adapting to an old country, trying not to be conspicuous. They had to remake a different England, and perhaps they did. It struck me during the 1980s that English Jews didn’t become more English; rather, the English became more Jewish. They saw education and migrancy as the means to buck the class system.’
Linda Grant, This Little Realm
Harold Macmillan caustically remarked that Thatcher’s cabinet contained more Old Estonians than Old Etonians. But the transformation was cultural as well as economic. William Cook, in an astonishing article in The Spectator, describes the lasting impact of ‘Germanic’ refugees on English art and music:
‘The influence of these artistic émigrés has been so all-pervading that it’s easy to forget how insular British culture was before the second world war. Reviewing an exhibition of German art at the Burlington Gallery in 1938, the art critic of the New Statesman declared, ‘If Hitler doesn’t like these pictures, it’s the best thing I’ve heard about Hitler.’ British modernists fared no better. In 1938, the Tate’s director, J.B. Manson, said that Henry Moore would only enter the gallery over his dead body. Yet by 1951, Moore had become the star turn at the Festival of Britain. Finally, against all odds, these continental émigrés had dragged British culture into the 20th century. From now on, in Britain, as on the continent, modernism was the status quo.
This tale is usually told as a story with a happy ending, a triumph of progressive values over reactionary, fuddy-duddy conservatism. But although Britain gained a great deal from this flood of foreign talent, you can’t help feeling, looking back, that something was lost along the way. Before the war, British culture was much more staid, but more in tune with public opinion. Since 1945 our artistic institutions have become much more Middle European: avant-garde, conceptual and out of step with popular taste.
Among the British intelligentsia, modernism has become the new orthodoxy, but this Mitteleuropäische aesthetic has never really been accepted by the population as a whole. There’s a cultural class divide in Britain (to an extent unknown in Germany) between highbrow and lowbrow, between bien-pensant and populist attitudes to art. The cognoscenti may flock to the latest show at the White Cube, but beyond the metropolitan bubble the feeling persists that most modern art is obscure and somehow foreign. This is a legacy of the Hitler émigrés, and the modernist movement they inspired.’
Curiously, Trump seems to have prompted a re-alignment in the United States, just as Brexit has in England. Free trade, the Single Market, TTIP and ruthless finance: the Gog and Magog of the leftist imagination, have become hallowed and saintly. Free Trade is defended in a way that would have puzzled left-leaning people 20 or even 10 years ago. Trump entertains Union leaders and leftist organs sneer at the notion of Mexican tariffs. Protectionism is self-evidently absurd. The ancient, tatty nostrums are brought out like shrouded mummies dug up for a superstitious festival: we can let the Chinese manufacture steel, we have a comparative advantage in creative art and shipping insurance.
After a while, Bastiat makes an appearance. If you break a window, you instantly provide business for a glazier. You can see how smashing the window stimulates the glassmaking economy. But you can’t see how the business owner would have spent his money otherwise. Perhaps he might have spent it in investing in a new shopfront, or in buying new stock. That is the difference between what is seen and unseen. Putting tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods is bad because even if manufacturing jobs are created, the consumer will pay more and have less money for other things. Business, no longer able to pay Bangladeshi orphans $2 a day to make clothes, will flounder about and be unable to use the saved money to innovate or invest. We might smile at this, but this is part of the zealously-held creed of our ruling elite.
The same people who defend free trade are often the most blithe supporters of an open-door immigration policy. One thinks of Bryan Caplan, the Mises Society or any of the countless, superannuated libertarian think tanks that congregate in London or New York like bluebottles around a cadaver. But surely the question of unseen consequences applies to immigration. Would any Englishman in 1914 have predicted the influence that Jews would have on our national life? Was the warping of our culture, the culture of the people who ‘speak the tongue that Shakespeare spoke, the faith and morals hold which Milton held’ worth admitting immigrants?
What if Anne Frank had been let in? As one cruel Twitter wag noted, her granddaughter would now be raving about intersectionality and cis-genderism. But this really is what would have happened. The seen action is saving a penurious refugee. The unseen action is having your culture redefined by a hostile and alien group, whilst being lectured about your white privilege by privileged and wealthy Jews. The descendants of the saved, notwithstanding those who weren’t, have already had a corrosive effect on English and American life, if not a fatal one. So if protectionism has unforseen consequences that make it less efficient than free trade, surely mass immigration is even more dreadful? You can always lower tariffs, but you can’t ‘lower’ cultural degeneration.
Even with other more deserving groups, the same logic applies. The Gurkhas are a Nepalese mercenary unit who fight for Britain. On retirement, they got a pension which allowed them to live a very comfortable life in Nepal. Changes meant that those who retired after 1997 were allowed to settle in Britain. Joanna Lumley and others led a successful campaign to allow those who retired prior to that date to retire here. No one can doubt the heroism of the Gurkhas. The campaign enjoyed a great deal of support, powered by cheap and sickly sentimentality. There never had been an expectation that Gurkhas would retire in Britain, so why create one? But caution was flung to the wind and in they came:
‘Shortly before 7pm last Tuesday, a multi-national scrum of shoppers began jostling for position in the fruit and vegetable section of Morrisons supermarket, Aldershot.
Their target: a variety of items reaching their sell-by date that were about to be sold for 9p, regardless of their original price.
A Romanian couple managed to grab the celery (down from 69p), while a Hampshire pensioner snatched the satsumas (reduced from 99p). But they were no match for the tenacious band of Nepalese incomers, who manoeuvered beside the tray with polite but practised efficiency to sweep up the most coveted bargains.
Why were they so desperate to buy this cheap produce, I asked one of the traditionally dressed Gurkha clan, Mrs Yam Kumari, a careworn woman who looked much older than her 53 years, as she clutched a plump cabbage.
Since she spoke no English, she beckoned her seven-year-old granddaughter to deliver her explanation — she had come to Britain seven years ago with her husband, a soldier in the Gurkha regiment, with the promise of a better life, but was now a lonely widow and had fallen on hard times.
The following morning, wandering through the town, I happened upon another arresting scene. As there are so many needy Nepalese residents in Aldershot, the Citizens Advice Bureau was holding a drop-in session exclusively for them, and with the doors about to open, a forlorn sea of wizened, Himalayan faces stretched down the road.
Hunched against the rain in shawls and woollen hats, many leaning on sticks, the problems that had brought them here were many and varied.
One man was about to return home for a three-month holiday and wondered whether the council would continue to pay his rent. A diabetic woman wanted to know how to obtain home-help from social services.
Unrecognisable now as the fearsome warrior who once fought in the jungles of Borneo, Mr Tul Bahadur Gurung, 71, anxiously brandished a final demand for £790.89p in water charges in front of me as he waited in the queue, insisting it had been sent to the wrong address.
Spend a few days in Aldershot, and you quickly become accustomed to such miserable stories.
When you enter this rundown Hampshire town, there is still a proud sign that welcomes you to ‘the home of the British Army’, yet the days when squaddies marched through its streets have long gone. Oddly, in fact, during Remembrance week when the nation was honouring our Armed Services, I saw not one soldier.
Instead, wherever you look, there are Nepalese people; many of them old and infirm. You see them gathered on park benches (prompting local MP Sir Gerald Howarth to remark, controversially, a few weeks ago, that there weren’t enough seats for everyone else); you see them trudging — often in large groups, as is their custom — through the paved precinct, with its boarded-up windows and everything-for-a-pound shops.
You see them in the GP surgeries forced to employ Nepalese-speaking staff and extra doctors to cope with the caseload (according to Sir Gerald, 3,000 have enlisted in one practice); in the new Nepalese grocery stores and restaurants; and the six Nepalese jewellers that have opened in the town (the last remaining English one has moved to Farnham).
Because they are so unhappy and homesick, you see them in the churches and religious halls, too, particularly those of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are said to have converted hundreds from Hinduism and Buddhism after a slickly targeted recruitment drive.
Drop into Coral, the bookmakers, and you will see many of the menfolk there, playing bingo and gambling — Lord knows how they can afford it — on everything from horseracing to Premier League football.
Why are so many Nepalese living in Aldershot (or Gurkha Town, as locals have renamed it) an out-of-the-way place whose smallness and insularity makes them still more visible?
According to the 2011 Census, more than 6,000 Nepalese people reside in the borough of Rushmoor, which includes Aldershot and Farnborough: about half of them in each town. Given that significant numbers of Gurkhas and their dependants have continued to arrive in the three years since then, the regiment’s welfare organisation believes their numbers could have swelled to 10,000: more than one in ten of the local population.
And because Aldershot’s population is smaller than Farnborough’s, with 36,000 people, it is here the impact is most evident. The Gurkhas are divided, roughly fifty-fifty, into two groups who have settled in Aldershot for very different reasons — with very different outcomes.
The patriarchs of the younger families, or so-called ‘post 97-ers’, are mostly former Gurkhas who were stationed in Hong Kong until 1997, when Britain handed the colony back to China, whereupon they were rebased to local Crookham Barracks.
Fluent in English and versed in British customs, not to mention independent, loyal and hard-working — trademark regimental qualities — upon retirement they were granted leave to remain and have integrated extremely well.
A Kent University study judged these ex-Gurkhas of working age to be the most economically active and self-reliant social group in Britain, with 95.1 per cent in employment. Many own their own homes and have started businesses.
Their families appear to be faring equally well. I was helped this week by Min Gurung, 49, a corporal in the 1st Gurkha Rifles when he retired in 2003, now head of security for a Saudi prince, and his wife Sharada, a teaching assistant.
Their daughters, aged 18 and 10, are bright, and the older girl, who gained a string of A-starred GCSEs, hopes to become a doctor. It is within the second group, who retired from the Gurkhas before 1997, that the myriad social problems that now beset Aldershot are rooted.
These are the people who had never previously set foot in Britain, but were tempted to migrate here — with the offer of free social housing and healthcare, and other benefits — after campaigners, championed with eloquent ferocity by Joanna Lumley (whose father served with the regiment), famously won them settlement rights.
Though Nepal has never been part of the Commonwealth, the Gurkhas have fought under the Union flag since 1815, when their bravery and tenacity in skirmishes with the East India Company was so impressive that they were invited to join the British Army.
It is estimated that 45,000 of their soldiers have since died for this country, and they have been awarded the Victoria Cross on 26 occasions.
The campaign for all Gurkhas to be allowed to settle in Britain began after it emerged that only those who retired after 1997 — when their base moved from Hong Kong to Aldershot — would be permitted to live here. But it really captured the public’s imagination when Miss Lumley — enormously popular after her role in the TV sitcom Absolutely Fabulous — took up the cudgels.
Who will forget how the actress stood triumphantly among the decorated veterans on the High Court steps in 2008, leading the cry of ‘Ayo Gorkhali!’ (forward Gurkhas!) after a judge ordered the government to recognise its ‘debt of honour’ to them?
Or the joyous scenes the following year, when then Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that some 36,000 Gurkhas who retired before 1997 could make their homes in Britain, together with their wives and any immediate dependants aged under 18.
For Miss Lumley, it was ‘a wonderful moment in our democratic history’. Five years later, by all accounts, she still hasn’t set foot in Aldershot to witness the results of her heroic campaign. If she did, she might just reconsider those words.
She would certainly find her halo has slipped, not only among hard-pressed local townsfolk but many Gurkhas, who have awoken — too late — to the grim realities of life in the milk-and-honey land they envisaged.
Hanging on the walls of the British Gurkha Welfare Society, alongside the medals and battle images, there are many photographs marking the settlement victory, but you will find none of Miss Lumley. The society’s chairman, Major Dal Dewan, told me: ‘The whole campaign was a fiasco.’
His anger centres on the issue of the Gurkhas’ military pension, historically set much lower than that of native British soldiers because it was intended to provide for them in Nepal, where the cost of living is a fraction of Britain’s.
In 2007, the rules were changed to give parity to those who retired after 1997. For the remainder, however, it remained at about one-third of the standard rate — and that was only for Gurkhas with a minimum of 15 years’ service.
For many others, there was no pension at all: just a pittance of around £30 a month from their welfare association in Nepal.
Among the thousands who have descended on Aldershot and its environs since 2009, it is estimated that about 70 per cent are in this category. So they are almost all dependent on the welfare state.
Sardonically, Major Dewan refers to them as ‘Lumley’s Legacy’. This also happens to be the name of a Facebook group where white Aldershot residents vent their grievances against the Nepalese.
Talking to them this week, one could well understand why they had relocated here, often selling their Himalayan small-holdings and borrowing from friends and relatives to scrape together £2,000 or more they need to pay for their flights, accommodation and UK visa.
Sitting, ramrod-backed in his flat above Aldershot High Street, Harka Gurum, 68, told me how he had been demobbed from the Gurkhas after just four years in the Sixties, when the MoD made cutbacks. He was handed a one-off payment of £180 and got no pension.
Afterwards, he worked as an electrician for the British Army in Nepal. But when he retired, he and his wife could barely afford food, much less medical treatment for the blood pressure and diabetes they both suffered.
In 2010, therefore, taking advantage of the new settlement rights, they left their friends and family in the beautiful town of Pokhara, which nestles beside a mountain-fringed lake, and wound up in this cramped, chilly, featureless bedsit looking out at a redbrick car park wall.
Financially, they are far better off, receiving a monthly pension credit of £904 between them, plus their £595 monthly rent and various other entitlements. Plus, of course, free prescriptions and the healthcare they require.
Accustomed to a culture where several generations of the same family often live under the same roof and the younger ones tend to their elders, and unable to speak more than a word or two of English, they are depressed and desperate to go home.
‘All we do is watch the Nepali satellite TV channel and wander around town every day, looking in shop windows,’ said Mr Gurum.
‘Local people are usually friendly, but young boys sometimes run up behind us and shout bad things. One knocked my glasses off, and we have had Coke cans thrown at us. They don’t seem to know we fought for them. They don’t know their history.’
The couple have somehow saved enough from their benefits to fly home for an extended break (a return air ticket costs upwards of £500) and say they would return to Nepal permanently — if only they were paid a reasonable military pension.
This is the mantra one hears from virtually all the older Gurkhas in Aldershot, some of whom are forced to live in cramped and ill-maintained rented flats where damp is a permanent feature and mould grows on the walls — although local letting agents say they are usually model tenants who keep their homes spotless and even cover ceramic tiles with cling-film.
Through the British Gurkha Welfare Society, they are fighting for a pension equal to that paid to their British counterparts: about £600 a month for the lower ranks.
The case is currently before the European Court of Human Rights, and a ruling is thought to be imminent.
Major Dewan insists he wrote to Joanna Lumley during the campaign, pleading for her to lobby the government for pension parity in addition to residency rights, because he foresaw the misery that would result from the large-scale arrival of ailing, elderly and impoverished Gurkha families.
Lumley replied ‘very diplomatically’ says Major Dewan, but whether she could do anything about pension rights is not clear. I put his criticisms of the campaign to her, but by last night, Lumley had not responded.
Should the Gurkhas win the latest legal struggle, he is confident many will gladly abandon the drab confines of Aldershot and head homewards, thus saving British taxpayers tens of millions in welfare benefits, freeing up badly needed housing and hospital beds, and easing the pressures on social services.
However, Sir Gerald Howarth fears that granting the Gurkhas equal pensions would only encourage more to come. During a recent Commons debate, Sir Gerald described the plight of older Gurkhas in Aldershot as ‘a tragic consequence of Lumley’s campaign’.
He said it had ‘done a major disservice’, both to them and ‘the indigenous population’, some of whom had moved away because they had ‘seen the character of Aldershot change massively’.
Given that the Gurkhas are so firmly entrenched, it certainly seems unlikely that they might beat a mass retreat. On the contrary, some older Nepalese are fighting to bring younger relatives over to care for them.
Men such as Mr Lal Bahadur Pun, a sprightly 86-year-old, whom I found wandering the streets aimlessly in his green regimental blazer and tie. He has just won a landmark High Court case, granting his adult daughter the right to come from Nepal to nurse his wife, who is incontinent and suffers dementia.
After the bloody encounters he braved on Britain’s behalf, few would begrudge him a home here — certainly not the thousands who cheered the Gurkha veterans as they marched past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.
It would take a hard heart to deny him the comfort of his daughter’s presence during his last years, too. Yet the truth is that her arrival is only likely, in the short term at least, to add to the local burden.
Will we soon find her scrabbling for cheap food at Morrisons, or queuing outside the Citizens Advice Bureau? She will, after all, need to be housed and fed.
Such are the harsh realities of life in a town that is today more like a shabby suburb of Kathmandu than the home of the British Army, and has reaped the whirlwind of a populist campaign that lacked foresight, valiantly fought though it may have been.
That, for all her undoubtedly good intentions, is Joanna Lumley’s legacy.’
David Jones, Daily Mail 2014, Joanna Lumley’s Legacy of Misery
We now have a situation where a rather sedate Home Counties town is 10% Nepalese because some people had a spasm of philanthropy. The Gurkhas themselves might have some claim on our loyalty. But what about their children? Or their grandchildren? Or their descendants ten generations hence? How will Nepalese people fare in an unsuitable environment, far from the Himalayas? Another pile of gunpowder has been added to the ethnic powderkeg. It’s like employing a trusty plumber for many years and then letting him and his wife move in, whilst ensuring his children will inherit half of the house.
All immigration is an unseen catastrophe. No mill owner in the 1960s, desperate for cheap labour, would have predicted that the children of his imported workers would gang-rape English girls: shoving broken glass bottles in their orifices and forcibly pissing in their mouths. Those who welcomed West Indian immigrants off the SS Empire Windrush in 1948 would be very slightly perplexed at their grandchildren’s propensity, pace Rod Liddle, for goat curry and knifecrime. They all have to go back, regardless of how pleasant or nice they seem, because we cannot tell as Kipling said, when the Gods of their far-off land will repossess their blood. If we prevaricate on this, we defer the conflict to our children.