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

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • 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

  • Featured News Seats and Selections Luciana Berger in running for Liverpool City Region Mayor

    Luciana Berger in running for Liverpool City Region Mayor

    Luciana Berger will today become the third candidate in the race to get the Labour nomination for the Liverpool City Region Mayor election. Berger, who attends Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Mental Health, will announce her bid with a speech to local Labour members this afternoon. She is the second shadow minister to launch their candidacy for a new directly elected mayor position in a North West city, following Andy Burnham kicking off his Greater Manchester Mayor campaign earlier […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Sadiq Khan has stuck his neck on the line – but he hasn’t “discredited” Labour

    Sadiq Khan has stuck his neck on the line – but he hasn’t “discredited” Labour

    One evening at Labour Conference 2009, those of us attending from my constituency party met for a meal in a restaurant on the Brighton seafront. Our waiter was very excited to regale us with his familial tie to Labour royalty. “My great-great uncle was a Labour Prime Minister,” the waiter told us. “But I’m afraid you won’t like him: it was Ramsay MacDonald.” On cue, our well-oiled delegates treated him to panto hisses. “Now,” interrupted one, “I actually think there’s room for some reappraisal of Ramsay […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Uncategorized Sharon Hodgson: Labour will always stand up for children with special educational needs

    Sharon Hodgson: Labour will always stand up for children with special educational needs

    Since the Government announced its Schools White Paper last month, focus has been on their ham-fisted plans for the forced academisation of all schools. Though Ministers have subsequently U-turned on these flawed plans – after mounting opposition led by Labour and including parents, school leaders, teachers, governors, local councillors and their own backbenches – it is clear that they are still intent on obsessing over forcing or coaxing every school in England to become an academy. This fixation with school structures comes at the expense of raising standards for […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Jess Phillips hit by 600 rape tweets in one night

    Jess Phillips hit by 600 rape tweets in one night

    Jess Phillips has spoken of her disgust after receiving 600 tweets in one night about her rape. The Birmingham Yardley was bombarded with vile messages after launching a campaign to end online sexist bullying. “To see the attack of a pack on here check out my mentions 600 odd notifications talking about my rape in one night. I think twitter is dead,” she wrote on the online platform. Phillips, who was sexually assaulted as a teenager, today described the revolting […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Uncategorized Labour must view immigration as a political opportunity rather than an obstacle

    Labour must view immigration as a political opportunity rather than an obstacle

    In 2014, the last reliable figures that take ethnicity into account, there were 790,000 Poles living in the UK. With EU net migration still in the positive, and suggestions these figures might be a grossly underestimated, the total number could be significantly higher. To be clear, this is not a piece about immigration, or, at least, not about its effects on Britain, but about what policies may convince Polish migrants to vote Labour. Because the Tories have a head start. As EU migrants, most […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit