A Gulf

by Quinn

The blogosphere is choc-a-bloc with disillusioned Labour supporters, disheartened by what they see as Tony Blair’s betrayals once he gained power, presiding over a government that tramples on many of our cherished ideals.

But I’m not one of them, not really. For one thing I’ve never been a Labour voter; but for another Blair was elected back in 1997 with a manifesto and billboard campaign boasting of how he would stick to the Tories’ taxing and spending commitments, so I never expected Labour in office to be any different from the preceding rabble. As such, in the early days of the administration I actually sought to defend Blair, after a fashion. To those on the “left” dismayed by Labour’s antics I said, “well what did you expect, he promised nothing and he has delivered”. To his critics on the “right” I just wondered what their problem was; I don’t know what more Blair could have done to satisfy them, short of actually joining the Conservative party.

So I expected nowt from Labour in 1997; but that bright morning after their election victory I clearly remember reading Ceefax (ah, those were the days) when a small story caught my eye claiming that the new government would launch an investigation into Gulf War syndrome. Perhaps I have been too cynical and pessimistic about New Labour, I thought. Early days indeed, but they had already done something that the Tories would never have countenanced. Maybe it would be all right.

So for me it was especially depressing to read this article in The Guardian, about how the MoD had to be dragged into accepting Gulf War syndrome by the pensions appeal tribunal only last November, and that it has since rowed back from that position by unilaterally reinterpreting its conclusions in order to save money. The report states that

Last month, Mr Concannon (the president of the tribunal) wrote to Alan Burnham, chief executive of the Veterans Agency, in unusually strong language. He said: “The Ministry of Defence have clearly and deliberately departed from the terms of the tribunal decision in order to substitute their own expression. In my view the Ministry of Defence have no legal authority to tamper with the terms on which a tribunal allows an appeal. The Ministry of Defence have taken on themselves to manipulate the terms of the tribunal’s decision.

“What they have done is a purely unilateral decision. It is a decision that at least questions and probably undermines any confidence the tribunal might have that its decisions will be faithfully implemented.”

Labour’s former minister for the disabled, Lord Morris, told the Guardian: “The Ministry of Defence has effectively overturned the tribunal’s decision. This could affect hundreds, if not thousands of servicemen who are suffering from Gulf war syndrome. This could stop them getting additional money.”

Last Thursday, the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association wrote to Lord Craig of Radley, the former Air Chief Marshall at the time of the first Gulf War, to highlight the MoD’s change of heart. The association accused the MoD of playing “another sleight of hand”.

Last night the MoD said it would not accept the existence of Gulf war syndrome. The ministry said money was already being paid to ex-servicemen with disabilities, and that it did not need to pay extra money for those who claimed they were suffering from Gulf war syndrome.

This government has done many things to appal; even though I expected little of them they have still shocked me in many of their actions. But this decision feels more personal; it brings me right back to Labour’s first day in power, when a jaundiced and slimmer future blogger briefly thought things could be just a little bit better.

This is where I came in; cynicism restored and intact.