Where are they now? Parmjit Dhanda
Parmjit Dhanda (Credit: Tracy Worrall)
3 min read
“As I walked around the back of the car I saw it. There’s no mistaking a severed pig’s head any which way you look at it.”
So reads the passage in former Labour MP for Gloucester Parmjit Dhanda’s autobiography, My Political Race: An outsider’s journey to the heart of British politics, in which he recounts the time a pig’s head was left on his drive by perpetrators wrongly mistaking him for a Muslim.
It was 2010, and Dhanda was campaigning to keep his seat in the general election of that year. Years after the racist attack, Dhanda says “there was… a silence around it. Journalists wanted to talk about it, the public wanted to talk about it, but I never really felt that political establishments really wanted to talk about it; it was too close to home.”
Dhanda had been elected nine years previously, in 2001. While he says the people of Gloucester voted him in for his track record as a Labour Party member, others doubted his suitability – as a Sikh who grew up in Southall – for a cathedral city constituency.
He says Westminster also took time to get used to him. “I still remember my early experiences of being in the place and being asked ‘where on earth I thought I was going’ the very first time I walked into the Chamber,” he says. “I just nervously held up this little green and white badge, and the look on the doorkeeper’s face [was] like, ‘oh my God, what have I done?’”
While Dhanda says he was a “big boy” in handling these reactions, he had to “grow up very quickly” when the 9/11 terror attacks happened just a few months after his election. “This was a new thing for me,” he says, “learning that all of a sudden you are a voice for a community, and you have to find the right words of healing and calming.”
In 2006, Dhanda became education and skills minister and in 2007, he became communities and local government minister, where he helped take the 2008 Planning Act through Parliament. Dhanda also saw a major regeneration of Gloucester’s docks and the building of a new hospital. “It made you feel alive to be doing all that when you are young,” he says.
However in 2010 Dhanda lost his seat in what he describes as a “crushing” blow. While he went on to take a parliamentary officer role at trade union Prospect and became a non-executive director for a housing association, he reflects that “there may even have been a kind of element of post-traumatic stress disorder” after leaving Parliament. “It is incredibly lonely,” he says. “One minute, you’re there – you have got all these people around you. They are all your friends. And the next minute you feel completely on your own and discarded.”
Dhanda went on to run as an MP for Brent Central in 2013, Aberavon in 2014, Ealing North in 2019 and Wycombe in 2022, but says he didn’t think he “had the mental will to actually go through and win a selection.”
Dhanda since became a negotiations officer in the telecoms sector, chaired the board of a Milton Keynes hospital charity which raised more than £10m for a new cancer centre, and is chair of the Allied Health Professions Federation. He is now executive director of campaigning group Back Heathrow.
He has also recently helped Gloucester candidate Alex McIntyre in his election campaign. “I have been lucky enough to have my political career,” he says, “and if I can help other good people get elected, I think that’s probably my stage in my life now.”
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