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.


  • Comment Featured Labour’s shrinking vote

    Labour’s shrinking vote

    Over the summer our Independent Inquiry published 5 key messages about Labour’s defeat in May. This sixth comes courtesy of Survation who have kindly leant us their data and their expertise. It reveals the myth of Labour’s 35 per cent strategy and the idea that Labour can win elections without building a broad electoral alliance.   Labour’s advantage over the Conservatives among 2010 Liberal Democrat voters had collapsed by half from early 2012 to May 2015, as these voters drifted […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Labour reversal: McDonnell says party will now oppose fiscal charter

    Labour reversal: McDonnell says party will now oppose fiscal charter

    Labour will now oppose the Tories’ fiscal charter when it comes to a Commons vote later this week, after Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell ha previously pledged his support. The charter would tie the government to run a budget surplus within three years during “normal times”, when there is no economic crisis. On the Saturday before Labour Party Conference, just two weeks ago, McDonnell told The Guardian: “We will support the charter. We will support the charter on the basis we […]

    Read more →
  • News Diane Abbott says pro-intervention MPs should pressure Cameron to get UN mandate on Syria

    Diane Abbott says pro-intervention MPs should pressure Cameron to get UN mandate on Syria

    Shadow International Development Secretary Diane Abbott has criticised the prospect of Labour MPs voting for military action in the Middle East, saying that “British military intervention in Syria will solve nothing”. In a piece for The Guardian published online today, she also attacks the the framing of intervention as “wrapped up as part of a humanitarian effort”. “It is entirely disingenuous to argue for military action alongside a diplomatic and humanitarian action, as if they are inextricably linked”, she writes. […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Welcome, Momentum, and here’s some friendly advice

    Welcome, Momentum, and here’s some friendly advice

    As I’m the director of Progress, I doubt many will be surprised I didn’t get the email inviting to join Momentum, the new “grassroots network” and “social movement” being built from the Jeremy Corbyn campaign. I won’t pretend to have tweeted #JezWeCan, but the Labour Party has a rich tradition of groups with very different views and backgrounds. Progress was delighted to have the Guardian’s Owen Jones, Compass’s Neal Lawson, Class’s Steve Hart, and Blue Labour’s Maurice Glasman speak at […]

    Read more →
  • News EU In campaign launches with support of Labour figures

    EU In campaign launches with support of Labour figures

    The campaign to keep Britain in the EU had its official launch this morning, with appearances from Shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden, Emma Reynolds and former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. The cross-party campaign has Will Straw, a Labour candidate in this year’s general election, as its executive director, and the East London launch this morning also featured June Sarpong, who was a vocal supporter of David Lammy in this summer Labour London Mayor selection. Former Labour prime ministers Tony […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends