10 Years on From the Iraq War Vote

26th March, 2013 5:15 pm

Why did I do it? It wasn’t easy, not for me anyway. Ten years ago it wasn’t fashionable in the Parliamentary Labour Party to be an Iraq War Rebel.

And I was doing well. A young starlet in the party amongst a young dream-team intake that included Purnell, Burnham, Watson, Miliband (David), Knight and many others. Rebellion was not on my mind – I was neither disloyal nor disaffected.

By accident rather than design I sat in front of Robin Cook the night he resigned in the Chamber. I knew my mind well enough to be certain I agreed with every word he said. I hadn’t become a rebel – I stayed true to my view that Britain could not go to war without that second UN resolution. That had been the Party’s policy throughout. Until this week ten years ago.

The night of the vote was tortuous. I remember ringing dad. “I just can’t do this dad. Its wrong.” He told me to do what I thought was right. He was never keen on this war.

Then I got the call to see Tony. I think he thought I’d come round. I really didn’twant to let him down. He said the government would win the vote, but he didn’t want to win on the back of Tory votes.

We talked about Bush and his roadmap to peace in the middle-east. Without wanting to sound stroppy I tried to find statesmanlike language to question Mr Bush’s sincerity on the issue.

But before I left his office I promised him I’d consider what he’d said, because I genuinely respected him (Blair, not Bush).

When the division bell rang my good friend Keith Hill (the Deputy Chief Whip) waved to me and urged me to get up to head to the ‘no lobby’. I can still recall the look of disappointment on his face when I shook my head, signalling that I was going to break the cardinal rule of political collectivism by defying a 3 line Labour whip. I had to pass some of my strategically positioned friends from the 2001 intake as they stood next to the entrance of the rebel lobby, imploring me not to throw away my career. Others, in the ‘aye lobby’ laughed and patted each other on the back. It made me feel really uncomfotable. I just wanted to vote, get out and drive to my parents house in Hayes to regroup, away from all this pressure.

But as I emerged from the rebel lobby a shocked and then delighted John McDonnell bear-hugged me as I exited. No disrespect to John but I was in no mood to celebrate.

The 139 of us who rebelled that night all had our reasons. I felt genuinely awful. I hadn’t been elected as a Labour MP to spend my time voting against my own party. And when I got home that night I’m not ashamed to say I cried my eyes out. The day and the run up to it had been a huge strain. Many of us felt like pariahs in our own party at that time

Why did I do it? Because I thought the war was wrong. And in time, unfortunately, I feared history would prove the 139 rebels to be right.

Parmjit Dhanda was the Member of Parliament for Gloucester from 2001 to 2010

  • http://twitter.com/renieanjeh Renie Anjeh

    Quite a sad story, but at least Parmjit Dhanda did eventually get promoted by Tony Blair a year later and became a minister. It is shocking that John McDonnell thought it was a time to celebrate over a vote on war, it sounds like a self-indulgent attack on Blair rather than a principled stand which is what Parmjit Dhanda rightly took.

  • robertcp

    Yes, you were right and Tony Blair was wrong. It was the lowest point in the Labour Party’s history.

  • AlanGiles

    You did the right thing, the decent thing.

    However you write: ” A young starlet in the party amongst a young dream-team intake that included Purnell, ….. Miliband (David), Knight”

    The part of the dream where you wake up screaming. Luckily one is history, one is nearly history and we’re strangers in the (k)night.

  • Redshift1

    It’s funny. I think more of our MPs should have listened to the membership. Whilst other MPs were treating you like a pariah for doing the right thing, why didn’t it occur to more Labour MPs to find support for their position in their own CLPs?

    I think the way some mindlessly followed the leadership on this is a spectacular example of careerism and westminster bubble mentality.

    • Iskra holstein

      Have you heard about the man Saddam sent to his death by being thrown in an acid bath? He had written a phone number on a bill with Saddam’s picture on it. The executioners took pity and threw him in and pulled him out. He was left with horrendous scars but is alive. From Five live yesterday, broadcast spoken by a BBC editor.
      Oh and have you any idea how many Kurds Saddam had gassed ?? Answer over 180 000 source Guardian Weekly. Of course we are hardly bothered about kurds in the UK I guess….

  • Chilbaldi

    I’m not surprised at McDonnell’s reaction. But Parmjit missed the bit where Jeremy Corbyn was patting his back and George Galloway’s congratulatory phone call on his way home.

Latest

  • Comment 10 reasons to be wary of assisted dying

    10 reasons to be wary of assisted dying

    1. Assisted suicide is almost certainly not as popular as its supporters claim. Dignity In Dying claim that 82% of British people support assisted suicide, based on an online survey by the polling organisation Populus. This oft-repeated figure is a very bold claim, and so deserves to be subjected to some severe critical scrutiny (and even if it is accurate, it would not clinch the argument: sometimes we need to protect minorities regardless of majority feeling). So should we trust […]

    Read more →
  • News Is Ed Miliband going to rule out a return to frontline politics?

    Is Ed Miliband going to rule out a return to frontline politics?

    Ed Miliband could publicly rule out a return to frontline politics next week, according to this morning’s Times. The move would mean ruling himself out of a Shadow Cabinet position under Labour’s new leader. The paper reports that Miliband wants a break after spending five years as Leader of the Opposition. It is common for Labour leaders to step back from the frontbenches after leaving the role, with most never returning to a prominent role in the Commons. However, Miliband’s relative […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Clement Attlee chosen as Labour’s greatest ever leader

    Clement Attlee chosen as Labour’s greatest ever leader

    The Spirit of ’45 lives on – Clement Attlee was the Labour Party’s greatest ever leader, according to LabourList readers. In our survey this week, which also found that readers feel they have most to fear from an Osborne-led Tory Party, we asked those who took part to pick who they thought was Labour’s best leader from history. People could only pick one, and the list does not include acting leaders (sorry Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman). Unsurprisingly, Clement Attlee […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News George Osborne as Tory leader would pose the biggest threat to Labour, say LabourList readers

    George Osborne as Tory leader would pose the biggest threat to Labour, say LabourList readers

    Last week Jeremy Corbyn argued that the House of Lords should be replaced with a proportionately-represented elected second chamber. We asked LabourList readers what they thought about this. The vast majority of people are in favour of Corbyn’s proposals; 70% said yes while about 25% said weren’t in favour of this particular idea but wants the Lords reformed in some way. Only 4% said no and 1% opted for ‘don’t know’. Although all eyes are focussed on the Labour leadership […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Why I introduced the Assisted Dying Bill

    Why I introduced the Assisted Dying Bill

    My main reason for introducing the Assisted Dying Bill is simple. It’s a straightforward question of choice and dignity: with appropriate, strong safeguards, terminally ill adults of sound mind should be legally allowed to choose to have assistance to end their own lives. I value life, and I do understand that some people believe very deeply that ending one’s own life is always wrong. Nevertheless, the depth and sincerity of their belief should not mean that they deny choice to […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit