My friend and I had travelled down from Cambridge to the CPAG office so that I could interview Frank Field for a piece in The 1/- Paper. He was generous with his time. We discussed the importance of the work of Brian Abel Smith and the need to transform the CPAG into an effective pressure group, aimed at redressing the failures of the Labour Government of the time.
And then he took us for lunch.
He regaled us with stories of the left before my time, notably - I recall – the attempt by Gerry Healey (of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party) to run him down outside a meeting at which Frank had challenged Healey’s agenda. The story involved Frank taking cover behind a concrete bollard into which an irate Healey smashed his car. And then, long into the afternoon, he talked quietly and powerfully about his faith. And although I was familiar with the truism that the Labour Party owed more to Methodism than Marx, I wrote later that Frank must be one of the first to come to socialism via High Anglicanism.
That day Frank Field was committed, thoughtful, witty, charismatic. As he was also on subsequent occasions, addressing small groups of students at ill-attended meetings (a couple of which I organized), patiently explaining to us that there was much that could be achieved to eradicate poverty even before the revolution!
Forty years on, that Frank Field is no longer recognizable. And it’s a source of profound regret to those of us who believed that he was a progressive force.
Over the years, I have consistently given him the benefit of my doubt. I have read with detailed attentiveness each new paper, each new policy proposal, looking for evidence to justify my belief that he was a maverick but he was our maverick, that his Anglican social democratic instincts nevertheless made the Labour Party his natural home. I even sought to justify his relationship with Thatcher and his acceptance of an offer to work with Cameron as ploys to further a Labour agenda, to exploit every contradiction etc etc.
But today, I can no longer do so.
Frank is too intelligent a man to believe the stuff in his resignation note but he said it anyway. Just as an ex-Chief Rabbi must surely know the difference between Jewish and Zionist, so Frank must surely know that the party he has represented in parliament since 1979 is not racist or anti-semitic and nor is its leader. To argue that the the bizarre statement by Sachs is the reason he has resigned is the ‘last straw’ for me and, I suspect, for thousands of members and supporters who, regardless of their position on the political spectrum, acknowledged his right to independent thought and action.
Throughout his career, Frank has been a member of a legitimate tendency within the Labour Party. It is not a tendency to which I subscribe, but I also prefer to watch the parking meters and I recognize that it has a long and valid tradition.
Trouble is, it is this very tradition which Frank is undermining. Oy vey.
Today from the everysmith vaults: My birthday album, Highway 61 Revisited. (the mono recording obviously.) Probably my favourite of the extraordinary 60s triptych anyway. Released on 30 August 1965, it emerges from the vaults both regularly and frequently.