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

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  • 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.

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