Do you like reading fine words? Here is the Prime Minister on the subject of Iraqi ex-employees of the British Government, speaking in the House of Commons on October 9th, 2007:"I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our civilian and locally employed staff in Iraq, many of whom have worked in extremely difficult circumstances, exposing themselves and their families to danger. I am pleased therefore to announce today a new policy which more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff, who work for our armed forces and civilian missions in what we know are uniquely difficult circumstances."
Fine words. What about deeds?
A small number of Iraqis—fewer than a dozen, according to people close to the operation who are in contact with me—were removed from Iraq in the early autumn of 2007. Since the Prime Minister’s admirable declaration of October, how many Iraqi ex-employees have been evacuated from Iraq? According to all the Iraqis that I am in contact with: none.
None? Not one? This is absolutely fucking outrageous.
As some may recall, I wrote to my MP—a certain Keith Hill—some time ago, on Monday 26th November.
Monday 26 November 2007
Dear Keith Hill,
On October 9th David Miliband announced that the British Government would assist former employees in Iraq, so long as they had worked for it after 1st January 2005 and for 12 months or more. This was itself a small enough concession for those who have risked their lives to help our soldiers.
Unfortunately, this abandons several hundred Iraqis who have been targeted for murder because they worked for the British before that date—and in 2004 fighting between the Mahdi Army and the British was at its peak—or because they worked for less than that period, often leaving their jobs at the end of a British battalion’s six-month tour.
The British Government should help Iraqi employees on the basis of the risk they face, not according to an arbitrary time stipulation. This only affects a few hundred Iraqis, whom we are well able to shelter, and for whom we have a direct moral responsibility—a debt of honour,
if you like.
Even those Iraqi employees who qualify for assistance are not being properly assisted. Iraqis in Basra are not able to apply via the British Army in Basra International Airbase, since it is ringed with militia checkpoints. Iraqi ex-employees in Damascus are being screened by Syrian policemen guarding the British Embassy and delayed by lengthy bureaucratic procedures when they apply for asylum, although many of them are illegally overstaying their Syrian visas and face deportation back to Iraq.
A blogger called Dan Hardie is directly in touch with a number of Iraqi employees via email and phone. He is willing to brief MPs—as concisely as possible—either over the phone or via email. He can be reached at [email address].
In the meantime, I would like to know if you would petition the Foreign Secretary—or at the very least, raise the issue—to allow those Iraqis who have worked with our hard-pressed forces to be fast-tracked into Britain. The fact that we have not done so has already resulted in the murder of several of those who worked for us and, as we know, they were neither quick nor painless deaths.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I did indeed look forward to hearing from him; after all, this is why MPs need all these holidays and perks: so that they can respond to their constituents—isn't that right? It is, I would imagine, how Keith Hill would justify the £88,060 that he spent on his staffing allowance, the £1,314 he spent on stationery, £3,670 on the associated postage costs, the £1,008 he spent on centraly provided computer equipment and, no doubt, much of the £11,957 he spent in incidental allowances.
So when WriteToThem.com reminded me, two weeks later, that I had not received a reply from the little shit, I lost my temper. People are, after all, dying and not in pleasant ways. So, I sent the following missive, on the 13th December.
Thursday 13 December 2007
Dear Keith Hill,
Some weeks ago, I sent you an email on the plight of the Iraqi interpreters who worked with our forces and are now being murdered because of this.
You have not replied. Really, I expected nothing more from you: you are, after all, a politician and, as such, a pretty poor specimen of humanity.
I hereby pledge to do everything within my power to ensure that you lose you seat at the next election.
Well, this obviously riled dear Keith, because the response was instantaneous.
No, only joking, it wasn't even close to being swift. In late January, I received a letter dated Tuesday 15th January.
My office was in the process of responding to your email concerning the British Government's assistance to former employees in Iraq, when I received a second email from you containing abuse and an idle threat.
With that in mind, I will not be corresponding with you again.
Rt Hon [Ha!] Keith Hill MP
I can't say that I'm particularly gutted; Mr Hill is not the world's most scintillating letter writer and I imagine that his reply would have been some useless boilerplate parroted from the Foreign Office anyway.
But how is two sodding weeks, without even an acknowledgement, a reasonable lead time for a man who spends £88,000 employing staff? And to receive the first acknowledgement of my correspondance a month after that—i.e. six weeks after my original email—is just entirely unacceptable.
Having said that, I am embarrassed. No really, I am.
Because I did make an idle threat: I promised to dedicate time to making sure that Keith Hill lost his seat when, of course, he is standing down of his own volition. Indeed, the website for his potential Labour replacement, Chuka Umunna, was built by Jon Worth.
Streatham, interestingly (and perhaps unexpectedly), was a safe Tory seat from its creation in 1918 until Hill won it for Labour in 1992. Since 1997, Labour's lead in the constituency has shrunk from 18,423 to 7,466 on an average turn-out of 41,000. It's still a significant Labour lead, but by no means impossible to overturn (although the LibDems have beaten the Tories into third place in the last couple of elections).
Obviously, I shan't bother contacting Keith Hill MP again, but if anyone would like to write to their MP and express their outrage that this government is failing to honour its obligations, please do so—using WriteToThem.com, it couldn't be easier.