Playing the Field
Frank Field MP is a thoroughly decent and un-partisan politician. He has backed his own party (Labour) when he has thought them to be right and has been unafraid of acknowledging other parties when they have advocated policies or principles that strike a chord with him.
Today, once more, Field finds himself accused of disloyalty to his party. After helping David Cameron to launch a new project at Demos he has been accused of giving succor to the enemy. In reality, of course, he was doing nothing of the sort. Rather, as he pointed out at the event, Field doggedly pursuing an agenda in which he has been interested for more than a decade. And, unlike some of his more partisan colleagues, he once more demonstrated that he is willing to engage with anyone (whatever party they’re from) in promoting that agenda. In a Britain that is increasingly cynical about its politicians this high-minded approach is commendable.
Because of Field’s willingness to co-operate, some have compared him to John Bercow. This is an obvious choice in that he is often more beloved by the other side of the House than his own, but I think it is also grossly unfair. Whilst Bercow has made a political transition – from right-wing ideologue to left wing darling and social liberal – Field has remained pretty much the same. His are the values of pre-militant Labour, values that accept the right and responsibility of Government to make a moral case for the kind of society that it wants and to act in pursuit of that society. It was these values that led Tony Blair to put him in charge of the welfare system in 1997 with the famous instruction to ‘think the unthinkable’. It was these values that led to him being pilloried and driven out of office by the modern Labour party as he followed those instructions and produced a radical blueprint for real reform. So, unlike Bercow who appears to have turned his politics on their head, Field has remained admirably constant in the face of a tide of criticism and condemnation.
If we are going to compare Field to anyone in modern politics who should it be? Who else has demonstrated such independent commitment to the values they hold dear or sacrificed the chance of high office in exchange for clarity and principle? The only example I can think of comes from across the Atlantic – Senator Joe Lieberman from Connecticut. Senator Lieberman has stuck vigorously to his centrist agenda, has refused to be swung left or right no matter where the best chances of promotion might be and has demonstrated his willingness to work with anyone, from any party, who can help to promote the issues he feels strongly abou
So, who’s independent, courageous and principled enough to be mentioned in the same breath as Mr. Field? Answers on a postcard please!