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Frank Field resignation as Labour MP can't be dismissed as insignificant

Frank Field resigned the Labour whip over the party's anti-Semitism row. Credit: PA

It's been a long time since Frank Field received so much support from so many of his Labour colleagues.

After a summer of speculation over which Labour MP would walk next, Field has become the unlikely poster boy for self-styled moderates by putting his money where his mouth is - not just joining the chorus of critics lambasting Jeremy Corbyn's handling of the anti-Semitism row, but withdrawing his support for him in Parliament.

His resignation letter is typically pointed: "The leadership is doing nothing substantive to address this erosion of our core values. It saddens me that we are increasingly seen as a racist party."

The Birkenhead MP has never been afraid to walk out of step with his party, whoever is leading it.

He once described Tony Blair as a "...water spider. It skims across the water, but once it’s gone, you can’t tell that it was ever there."

Of Gordon Brown he said he had a "vile temper" and was "unhappy in himself".

He publicly said he felt uncomfortable in Ed Miliband's Labour Party because it wasn't hard-line enough on immigration, but he always stuck it out. A thorn in the side but a thorn on side nonetheless.

Until now.

Jeremy Corbyn's team has attempted to downplay Field's departure. Credit: PA

Jeremy Corbyn's office are very keen to play down the significance of Field's departure. A source said "Frank has been look ing for an excuse to resign for some time.”

Mr Field was indeed no use to the Labour leadership when he voting with the government in key Brexit votes before recess - votes that saved the Theresa May from damaging defeats.

But it cost him locally in Birkenhead, a constituency he has represented since 1979. His decision to vote Leave in the referendum had already upset local party members but continuously backing the Tories was the final straw. They passed a vote of no confidence in him in July and had planned to attempt to de-select him.

The chair of the Birkenhead Labour Party George Davies told me after his resignation that "Frank felt bullied" and hadn't attended a meeting for several months.

The Labour leadership believe his decision to resign the whip has more to do with that than anything else.

But the sheer weight and scale of support from within the Labour Party for Field's decision shows the respect he retains, despite not belonging to any wing or faction. Equally, there has not been the avalanche of personal criticism from Corbyn allies in response that was seen when Barrow MP John Woodcock resigned last month.

Field is undoubtedly a maverick, but he was also a minister, a select committee chair, a significant campaigner against child poverty and a Labour MP for almost 40 years.

His resignation may not be a total surprise, but it is difficult to dismiss it as insignificant.

Field has been an MP for nearly 40 years. Credit: PA