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Frank Field: 40 Years an MP

Frank Field, Baron Field of Birkenhead, and former MP for the Birkenhead constituency for 40 years, passed away on the 23rd of April 2024 at a London care home, following a gruelling battle with prostate cancer. He was 81 years old.

His parliamentary office released a statement from his family upon his death which read: “Frank Field (Rt Hon Lord Field of Birkenhead, CH) has died at the age of 81 following a period of illness.”

“Frank was director of the Child Poverty Action Group between 1969 and 1979, and the Member of Parliament for Birkenhead between 1979 and 2019.”

“In 2020, Frank entered the House of Lords as the Rt Hon the Lord Field of Birkenhead, was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2022 New Year Honours and continued to serve on the boards of Cool Earth, Feeding Britain and the Frank Field Education Trust.”

“He will be mourned by admirers across politics but above all he will be greatly missed by those lucky enough to have enjoyed his laughter and friendship.”

At the start of the New Labour era, he was a welfare reform minister in Tony Blair’s first government, where his collaborations with Blair and Chancellor Brown eventually led to the Working Families Tax Credits being introduced. His Christian faith encouraged him to create an effective support system for the needy, whilst keeping it financially viable to not seem like a lucrative benefits system. After resigning from cabinet in 1998 following a row with the then chancellor, Frank became a vocal critic of the government by voting against its reforms such as foundation hospitals, and after Labour were ejected from power, incoming PM David Cameron appointed Frank Field to head an independent review into poverty. 

He was one of several Labour MPs in 2018-19 who resigned the whip in response to the party’s position on Brexit and contested the 2019 general election as a Birkenhead Social Justice Party candidate, losing to the Labour candidate Mick Whitely.

Baron Field’s terminal cancer diagnosis, which he received in 2021, encouraged him to advocate for assisted dying, and he supported such a bill which was debated in the House of Lords at the time, despite receiving hospice treatment and not being able to make the debate. 

His death has been met with condolences from across the political divide, praising his “unwavering moral compass” and showing the tolerance, civility, and respect that he showed to all his parliamentary colleagues. Sir Keir Starmer, current Labour leader, said: “Frank was principled, courageous and independent-minded,” with PM Rishi Sunak praising Field’s, “decency and faith in people's self-interested altruism.”

His decision in early 2019 to vote with the government motion on Brexit was one that I agree with, however this is not the main accomplishment that Frank achieved or that I admire the most. It is his ability to work cross-party on issues that affect the politically motivated and unmotivated alike, especially on poverty which can be seen from his early days at the Child Poverty Action Group in the 1970s all the way to his actions in Parliament. 

I was also surprised to learn that during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the pair struck up a close friendship, despite the fact that they represented different parties and ideologies. In February 2023, he co-wrote the book Politics, Poverty and Belief, with Brian Griffiths, Thatcher's former chief policy adviser, and Rachel Griffiths, yet again showing the benefits of cross-party cooperation. A remarkable lesson that we can learn from this is that politics should not sum up an individual’s worth. Whether we have lost that as a young generation, kept up with fervent social media spats and insults, or the older generation having some sort of spark that allowed them to see beyond someone’s preference, I am not sure. However, we can find that spark, that sense of community again. It is what Frank Field would want for our society.

Our deepest condolences go out to all those who knew and loved him, in and out of the Parliamentary estate.

Image: UK Parliament

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