Frank Field – the right honourable and brave Member of Parliament for Birkenhead
1987: Bishop David Sheppard, Frank Field MP (Birkenhead), David Alton MP (Liverpool Mossley Hill), Lynda Chalker MP (Wallasey) and Archbishop Derek Worlock – at a rally against world poverty held at Liverpool Pier Head.
Frank Field sought the Labour nomination for the 1979 Liverpool Edge Hill by election. He didn’t get it. Another of my potential opponents was Ann Widdecombe, who expressed interest in the Conservative nomination.
In retrospect, I am very glad that neither secured their parties’ nominations – bruising by-election campaigns don’t always endear you to your opponents.
In any event, both went on to become formidable and respected parliamentarians – MPs who rapidly established reputations as principled and diligent.
Five weeks after that Liverpool by-election, Frank became, in the General Election which folowed, the MP for Birkenhead – sometimes called the one-eyed city by Liverpudlians (reputedly because only one face of its clock tower was visible from the Liverpool side of the Mersey).
Frank stood in the tradition of his immediate predecessor, Edmund Dell, who had been MP since 1964 but who resigned his seat in 1979, increasingly disillusioned by Labour’s drift to the Left; and its hostility to free markets and competition. He later joined the SDP.
Another of Frank’s predecessors was the Liberal MP, Graham White, first elected to Parliament in the 1920s, and who, in 1945, was one of the MPs who visited Buchenwald concentration camp. He worked closely with the Independent MP, Eleanor Rathbone, in opposing antisemiism and in championing Jewish refugees.
In words that might have been written about Frank Field, Graham White’s parliamentary colleague Sir Percy Harris described him as “disinterested, with a fine sense of duty and a varied knowledge of every kind of social problem, he was a mine of information and always ready to step into the breach.”
For Frank Field, too, public duty, conscience, constituents, and country, are the red meat of politics. But he also understands the importance of being loyal to a Party – at least until it attempts to subvert your conscience or requires you to act in ways that are inimical to your beliefs. Loyalty and blind allegiance are two entirely different things.
I always listen to Frank Field’s point of view – even when I disagree – because I know that his case will have been carefully and intelligently shaped. I especially admire Frank’s work on poverty, social justice and the strengthening of families and communities.
Throughout the 198Os Liverpool and Birkenhead became redouts of Labour’s Militant Tendency. Michael Foot described Militant as termites gnawing away at the foundations of the Labour Party.
Throughout that period Frank’s voice was one of sanity – and was overwhelmingly supported by his constituents.
Yet, during those years his constituency Labour Party endlessly tried to deselect him as an MP – forcing him to spend a hige amount of time and energy fighting them – time which could have been better used on so many other causes.
Meanwhile, in Liverpool, Militant Labour turned the city into a seething cauldron of resentment and chaos; organising crippling protests and demonstrations, sending dismissal notices to thousands of local government employees: impeding the city’s regeneration and entrenching poverty and unemployment.
Happily, Liverpool and Birkenhead both came through that era of riots, bankruptcy, and antediluvian class warfare – but they might as well turn Birkenhead’s clock back thirty years, if Frank Field is unsupported in his courageous stand.
Frank Field’s battles against motions of no confidence; attempts to undermine him as MP; and the outrageous antisemitism and racism which he has fought against all his life, all have much wider significance than one man’s undoubted bravery.
Just watch this – with both eyes open- and you will get a glimpse of what awaits our country if such intolerance and hate mongering is permitted to succeed.
1987: Frank Field MP (Birkenhead), David Alton MP (Liverpool Mossley Hill), Lynda Chalker MP (Wallasey),Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock – at a rally against world poverty held at Liverpool Pier Head.