Frank Field: The Birkenhead MP who dared to think the unthinkable

Frank Field in Westminster. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Archive/PA Images

Frank Field was a rare beast in Westminster: he was admired by people from all shades of the political spectrum.

A lofty figure who would spend his life tackling poverty and urging welfare reform, the former Merseyside MP will be missed by many.

Brought up in London by Conservative-voting working class parents, he spent nearly 40 years as the Labour Member for Birkenhead and helped Prime Ministers on both sides of the political divide.

Far from toeing the party line, Lord Field was a man who would stand by his principles -however much out of kilter some may have seen them.

He did have rare moments on the front benches but the free-thinker was never silenced when sitting further back.

Field working against poverty in 1976 Credit: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

A former councillor, Frank Field was director of the Child Poverty Action Group until he arrived in Wirral after winning his safe Labour seat in the same general election that put Margaret Thatcher in power.

Seen as being on the right of the Labour Party, he was to become friends with the Conservative PM later calling her "a hero" - much to the distaste of some of his colleagues to the left.

When the Iron Lady was being forced from office in 1990, he went to Downing Street to tell her straight that it was time to go. He was certain that others would not be strong enough to speak so bluntly.

Frank Field takes children from Birkenhead to meet the PM's wife Cherie Blair Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Archive/PA

A devout Christian, Frank Field dedicated his life to the challenge of eradicating poverty and helping to better the lives of the poor.

He set up the all-party parliamentary group on hunger which published a major report on the growing numbers of people relying on food banks.

In 2014, he founded the Feeding Britain campaign which continues to work to eliminate hunger in places like Birkenhead.

Lord Field had been minister for welfare reform in Tony Blair's first government.

His brief was to "think the unthinkable" but he was dismissed a year later after doing exactly that. It is likely however that a huge disagreement with social security secretary Harriet Harman was the main reason for him getting the push.

In 2010, Lord Field became David Cameron's poverty tsar. He reported back that improving the life chances of children under five was key to reducing inequality later in their lives.

David Cameron with Frank Field in 2010 Credit: Fiona Hanson/PA Archive/PA Images

The politician was vociferous in his criticism of Universal Credit.

He told the Commons how he had talked a Birkenhead man out of taking his own life, and how another constituent felt "lucky" that his family was invited to eat food left over from a funeral.

As chair of the powerful pensions select committee, he notably fought against retail tycoon Sir Philip Green over the collapse of BHS and had the Royal Liverpool Hospital's original contractor Carillion in his sights when it went into liquidation.

Frank Field was an environmentalist too, arguing that direct action was needed to end deforestation.

In 2007, he co-founded Cool Earth, a charity that works with native communities to stop rainforest destruction at its ground roots.

Closer to home, the former teacher put his name to the Frank Field Education Trust based in Ellesmere Port.

The schools aim to promote social justice by bringing world-class education to all children, including the most disadvantaged.

Frank Field speaking in the House of Commons as Minister for Welfare Reform Credit: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

Frank Field quit Labour's group in Parliament in August 2018, accusing the then leadership of becoming "a force for anti-Semitism in British politics".

A month earlier his pro-government stance on Brexit lost him a confidence vote in his constituency party.

The MP declared independence and would go on to stand for the new Birkenhead Social Justice Party in the December 2019 general election but was beaten by Labour candidate Mick Whitley by more than 17,000 votes.

Lord Field during an interview at Portcullis House in London Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

As a crossbench peer in October 2021, Lord Field backed a bill to allow assisted while revealing he was terminally ill.

In February 2023, he was cheered as he made his first appearance in the House of Lords for almost two years.

He arrived in the chamber in a wheelchair and was pushed to the despatch box so he could pledge an oath to King Charles.

Lord Field never married, and had described himself as "incomplete" as a result.

Friends said he lived a full life, however.

One supporter once said Frank Field "sees the need to influence policy, and is regarded as a man of high integrity, honesty and intellect.

"He is a vital organ of our democracy," they added. "He's gold."

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