Former Labour Minister Frank Field, who was ordered by Tony Blair to ‘imagine the unimaginable’, has died

Frank Field, a former Labour MP and minister, died at the age of 81.

In a statement, his family said: “He will be mourned by admirers across politics but above all he will be greatly missed by those lucky enough to have enjoyed his laughter and friendship.”

Sir Tony Blair urged Lord Field of Birkenhead to “think the unthinkable” to reform welfare in 1997, but he barely served for a year before being forced to return to the backbenches due to disagreements with other ministers, particularly Gordon Brown.

After leaving the Commons in 2019, Lord Field was diagnosed with terminal cancer and briefly admitted to hospice care in 2021.

His health had deteriorated to the point where he took his oath to the King from a wheelchair in the House of Lords last year.

After his passing, tributes flooded in from all sides of the political spectrum.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Lord Field “dedicated his life to being a voice for the most vulnerable” and called his death a “profound loss to politics and to our nation,” while former home secretary Priti Patel praised his “unwavering moral compass, commitment to cross-party working, and unshakable principles.”

The Commons speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, stated that Lord Field was “neither cowed by the establishment nor whips – which made his campaigns against hunger and food poverty, for climate change and the Church, even more effective.”

“Suffice to say, he was one of a kind and he will be sorely missed.”

Growing up and becoming an MP

Frank Field in 1976 while serving as the Child Poverty Action Group’s director

July 16, 1942, was Lord Field’s birthday.

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In 1979, he was first chosen to serve as the Labour MP for Merseyside’s Birkenhead.

His working class family lived in London, where he was raised. When he was a teenager, he supported the Conservative Party, but he was expelled for speaking out against apartheid in South Africa.

In his teenage years, Lord Field joined the Labour Party.

He went to grammar school and Hull University before returning to London in the 1960s to serve as a councillor in west London.

He was the director of the nonprofit Child Poverty Action Group until 1979, when he was elected to the parliament, after he had lost his position in 1968.

During his initial years in parliament, the Labour Party was in the political wilderness and Margaret Thatcher remained firmly in control. Strangely enough, though, Lord Field continued to pay frequent visits to Downing Street.

Long before the 1997 election resulted in Sir Tony’s new dawn, the Labour MP was stepping into Number 10 as he and Mrs Thatcher developed an extraordinary friendship.

When Lord Field paid her a visit in 1990, he told her that their time together was up and that she should step down. They remained friends after that.

Lord Field was well-known for his welfare and poverty-fighting campaigns by the time New Labour came to office.

Because of his Christian religion, he came to believe that people should be helped by the government to overcome their natural tendencies.

This included the opinion that a too extensive benefits package would undoubtedly capture those who considered it to be a more straightforward and profitable option than the job market.

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In the end, Lord Field’s disagreements with social security secretary Harriet Harman and then-chancellor Mr. Brown caused him to resign from government in 1998.

Lord Field (back row, fourth from left) with a cabinet committee in 1997

Lord Field had gained recognition for his welfare advocacy and aiding the most vulnerable members of society by the time New Labour came to power.

His Christian beliefs caused him to conclude that people should be assisted by the government in rescuing themselves from their primal tendencies.

This included thinking that those who viewed a benefits system as a more straightforward and profitable option than the work market would undoubtedly become trapped by an overly generous system.

Ultimately, Lord Field’s departure from the cabinet in 1998 was caused by his disagreements with social security secretary Harriet Harman and then-chancellor Mr Brown.

Even after losing his position in the administration, Lord Field persisted in interfering and expressing his views on how the welfare system ought to operate.

By the end of Labour’s tenure, he was not impressed with Mr. Brown’s leadership after he took over as prime minister from Sir Tony in 2007.

He felt that a variety of voices should be heard, thus in 2015 he put forward Jeremy Corbyn for the position of head of the party. But when the Corbyn government did come to power, he was not an obvious ally.

Lord Field was a proponent of Brexit because, among other things, he thought that freedom of movement was hurting the UK labour market.

Among other reasons, Lord Field supported Brexit because he thought that freedom of movement was hurting the UK labour market.

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In 2018, he lost a vote of confidence in his Birkenhead constituency party and voted against Labour on several pieces of Brexit legislation.

After a little more than two months, he resigned as Labour whip, criticising the way the party handled antisemitism in his departure.

In the House of Commons, he persisted in his support for Brexit. In the 2019 election, he ran as an independent but was defeated by the Labour nominee.

Disease and demise

Lord Field declared himself terminally ill in 2021 and disclosed his support for assisted suicide.

After becoming a crossbench lord in 2020, he spent time in a hospice and had a speech in favour of assisted dying read aloud in the House of Lords.

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