It makes me proud to be British when I see something as simultaneously wonderful and hilarious as a middle-aged woman brow-beating a government minister into changing government policy.
Joanna Lumley is a treasured British asset – a ludicrously posh but much-loved and fearless actress – and she has been spearheading a campaign against the government for its treatment of Nepalese “Gurkha” British Army fighters.
Just look at this video in which Lumley speaks and then stares at immigration minister Phil Woolas just daring him to contradict her. The finest traditions of a British Battleaxe. He cowers under her summary and then embarks on a droney, bureaucratic explanation of how it all works and why the government hasn’t just made a complete arse of itself. I think Woolas’ political career is effectively over.
So what was it all about?
Well, Gurkhas are a throwback to the British Empire days but they have a strange kind of symbolism because they are renowned for fighting incredibly hard in extremely difficult situations for a country that has never really done much for them.
Recently, however, a number of Gurkhas has been refused the right to stay in the UK, setting off the quiet but deadly rumblings of Middle England who just don’t think that’s fair play. And Middle England found its perfect frontwoman in Joanna Lumley who has almost single-handedly forced the government in all its officiousness to change its policy by “not bloody having it”.
The Labour government lost a vote on the issue recently, causing the prime minister to invite Lumley to Number 10 for tea where he promised to sort it out. But then the next day, in a complete civil servant farce, a number of Gurkhas has their applications to stay in the UK turned down.
Lumley, furious, set off to the BBC to do an interview, but Woolas was already there. Then, apparently, the two went off for a private meeting and then this impromptu press conference was held. A royal farce and all of it done with incredible British politeness. I love it. And Joanna Lumley has gone from Institution to Legend.