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(ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL DALEY)


Of all the people we have profiled here over the past decade, Frank Field must be one of the most admired. Few politicians have ever been so transparently decent; of him could it be said that he dignifies Parliament, not the other way round. In almost 40 years as a Member, he has consistently championed the poor and vulnerable — but never resented the rich.

And yet he is underrated. Worse: many of those who claim to admire him actually condescend to and damn him with faint praise. When he resigned the whip over Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism, not only the Labour leadership but plenty of commentators dismissed him as a maverick. “Frank Field is not the answer,” Parris wrote in The Times. “He’s on the side of the angels but he is not one of them . . . he is slightly touched by the Joan of Arc syndrome.”

The insinuation of insanity, albeit of a harmless kind, is intended to evoke that very English suspicion of those who take their faith seriously. A prominent Anglican, Field is chairman of the King James Bible Trust; that’s quite enough to be put down as a Bible-basher. Yet it was he who last month urged the Church of England to buy the bankrupt payday lender Wonga’s loan book.

Full disclosure: I first met Frank Field at the age of eight. The occasion was the  1966 general election: he was the youngest candidate in the country and I was his youngest canvasser. Nationally, Labour won by a landslide; but in South Bucks (now Beaconsfield, then as now one of the safest Tory seats in the country), the earth failed to move. Hurrying home from my primary school I joined Frank and his little entourage going from door to door. He was as charismatic as he was energetic, but when we offered a leaflet to one couple, their faces fell. “That’s no use to us,” they admitted. It took a moment for the penny to drop: they were illiterate. Having been able to read for half of my short life already, I was shocked. “That’s why we need the Labour Party,” Frank said.

Thereafter he was driven by burning desire to help the children of working-class families to seize opportunities such as he, a grammar school boy, had enjoyed. Three years later, Field set up the Child Poverty Action Group. In the 1970s it mounted highly successful campaigns, including the replacement of family allowances by Child Benefit, normally paid to mothers. He did not fight another seat for Labour until 1979, when he won Birkenhead and he has held it ever since. But Margaret Thatcher won that year, the first of four successive Conservative victories. Field disagreed with many of her policies, but he was impressed by her as a politician and a person. On the eve of her fall in 1990, he gained an audience amid the chaos, during which he tried to persuade her not to resign. This Labour backbencher was more loyal than most of the Conservative cabinet.
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untenured
October 12th, 2018
10:10 AM
Being Mr. McCluskey's puppet isn't really a job for a self-respecting person, particularly one with the carefully curated profile of this Labour Grandee. Just as long as it serves the Brotherhood of Men and their ultimate goal. Crusade on behalf of the little man or woman?

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