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Tribute to Frank Field – by Kate Hoey

Frank Field: 16 July 1942 – 23 April 2024 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

Baroness Hoey

Baroness Hoey

4 min read

Devout Christian, ascetic and principled, Frank Field was also a person of dry wit and humour. A bold and original thinker, most notably on poverty and welfare, he was a formidable opponent and a faithful friend

Ascetic is not a word that features often in tributes to Members of either House of Parliament, but it appeared in many of the appreciations and assessments that were broadcast, posted online, and printed in the press following the announcement that my very dear and faithful friend and greatly valued colleague Frank Field had died.

Those who used that word might have been surprised to see the speed and singlemindedness with which Frank could devour the better part of the tin of Roses chocolates with which, over many years, he always arrived for our regular weekend suppers with two or three good friends at my flat in London.

Relaxing with us on those occasions we treasured the way he would, with disarming and incisive frankness, express himself on political developments of the day and on world affairs. As a voracious reader and a devout Christian he drew on wide range of knowledge and historical context, and his views were informed by an understanding of the lives of people in the United Kingdom – but particularly in his Birkenhead constituency.

He was bold and original in his thinking, with his fine mind informed by decades of detailed research, most notably on the many ways in which poverty affects lives and brings unhappiness. And recognition that the benefit and social welfare system can sometimes be as much a hindrance as a help if, through dependency, it inadvertently leads to poverty of ambition or opportunity. He understood from close engagement how destructive to families and to personal development such factors can be and used examples frequently of his own constituents.

It wasn’t the trappings of office he missed – it was the opportunity to change policy and people's lives

I was with him as his Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) when he resigned after Tony Blair wanted to move him away from his job as minister for welfare reform and remember his stoicism as we walked out of the department. It wasn’t the trappings of office he missed – it was the opportunity to change policy and people's lives.

His bravery and courage were physical as well as intellectual, as when he stood up to the infiltration and intimidation of Militant in his Constituency Labour Party – and won. Both of us faced great unpleasantness and opposition from within our local parties which never reflected the widespread support we received over decades from the local electorate – with increased majorities as evidence.

Over and above our personal friendship and rapport (we both had started our work teaching in Southwark College) Frank and I shared positions on so many important political matters – culminating in our support for withdrawal from the European Union. On his visits to Northern Ireland he showed his desire for the United Kingdom’s union to be strengthened and even during his long illness always asked me for an update on the campaign against the Northern Ireland Protocol. His logical thinking and the clarity with which he expressed himself – whether in writing or when speaking – made him a formidable opponent for those with whose views or policies he disagreed.

Outwardly composed, Frank had a dry wit and humour and his laughter made it fun to be with him whether on political matters or socially. He didn’t want to travel when chairing the Social Security Committee in the 90s but, once persuaded it could be beneficial, he greatly valued visits to Australia and Singapore and later to Argentina and Chile. We had never worked so hard.

Since 2020 we both were independent active peers in the Lords but sadly his time there was short. The fulsome tributes that flowed from across the political spectrum speaks eloquently to Frank as an upholder of principle and honour, attributes which have sadly become rarer amongst MPs since his election in 1979. I will miss him dreadfully and will always be grateful for his loyal friendship and the happy times we enjoyed. His legacy on welfare will be in the history books but it was Frank as a person who will be remembered most.

Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin is a Non-affiliated peer

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