The measure of a good politician is often that his decency shines through whatever he says and does, even if one is minded to disagree with him. Frank Field is a public intellectual who is frequently on the opposite side of the argument to me, a politician whose dogged principles mean that he is often infuriating and counterproductive, undermining fellow Labour politicians and siding with political enemies, backing free market policies or supporting immigration caps, but I've always found it hard not to respect him, even where it's been hard to listen. A religious man, a moralist, a believer that the 1950s represented a golden era, Field is nevertheless exactly the sort of man we need in politics; someone to raise unwelcome arguments, to air grudges, to fight for the underpriviliged - something he is always prepared to do.
There was a fascinating, irritating, inspiring interview with him in the Sunday Times magazine this week - it's worth a read. I particularly liked this section:
As we settle into our seats, Field tells a bizarre story, speaking volumes about the singular and eclectic nature of his career. Two nights before Mrs Thatcher lost office in 1990, Field — convinced few Tories had the guts to tell her the game was up — decided to visit Downing Street and tell her himself. “For some extraordinary reason, I used to have — and still do — a good relationship with her.”Elsewhere there's lots of other interesting things. Try as I might, I can't help but admire Field.
Informed that the PM was busy, he settled in a waiting room. After a while Norman Tebbit entered: “Frank, what do you want?” “I’ve come to tell the PM she’s finished. I suppose you won’t let me see her.” Shortly afterwards, Mrs T herself appeared, “trembling”, recalls Field, “as I imagine people do when told they have inoperable cancer.”
Field found her a chair. “Frank, why have you come?” she asked in quavering tones. “I’ve come to tell you that you are finished. I’m not discussing fairness, Prime Minister, I’m discussing the options. You cannot now go on a top note, but you can go on a high note.” He told her that Michael Heseltine, who was leading the drive to unseat her, was vacuuming up MPs’ support in the race to be her successor. “Oh, Mr Heseltine is a dreadful bad man,” she said wearily. Field urged her to get her candidate in the race, and when she asked who that would be, said: “It’s obvious, Prime Minister. It’s the person you’ve promoted to all these offices — John Major.”
Mrs T (it’s interesting how often her name crops up) once told him her main regret was that the very rich in Britain had not become philanthropists on the scale of America’s super-rich. Field would tax them “till the pips squeaked” unless they “voluntarily” gave away chunks of their fortunes. He believes both rich and poor have been sapped by the collective nature of British society. Leave it to “them” has become a crippling national watchword.