RIP Frank Field (1942–2024)

The IEA has learnt with sadness of the death of Frank Field, the MP for Birkenhead for almost 40 years and latterly a member of the House of Lords and a Companion of Honour.

There have been many obituaries and appreciations which cover Frank Field’s career and interests. From his days as a campaigner with the Child Poverty Action Group in the late 1960s to organising food banks on the Wirral fifty years later, Lord Field was passionately interested in combating poverty. In Parliament, he was a consistent – and insistent – voice for reform of the benefit system. He advocated an emphasis on an insurance-based system and on family and personal responsibility, an unusual stance for a modern Labour MP, reminiscent perhaps of the Christian Socialism of earlier generations.

As obituarists have reminded us, Frank Field’s ideas never came to fruition in the Labour Party, with a combination of Harriet Harman and Gordon Brown seeing off his efforts to ‘think the unthinkable’ as Tony Blair’s Minister for Welfare Reform.

A natural nonconformist, Lord Field was always willing to work with those of other political persuasions, resulting for instance in agreeing to produce an independent review of poverty for David Cameron. He was an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, and also of Enoch Powell (with the exception of the notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech). He worked with Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs on welfare issues, notably in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty.

As part of this eclecticism, Frank Field was one of the relatively few Labour MPs willing to visit Lord North Street and talk with IEA people. He also occasionally contributed to our publications; I remember editing an Economic Affairs piece by him many years ago.

He was also a supporter of the University of Buckingham, which awarded him an honorary DSc for his work on poverty in 2009. He saw the University, which has its roots in the ideas developed at the IEA in the 1960s, as a defender of freedom and a promotor of entrepreneurialism and was very pleased to open the University’s Vinson Building in 2018. Lord Vinson, the former Chairman of the IEA’s Trustees and a generous donor to the University, writes:

“Frank was one of those people who cared about what was right not just who was right, a rare quality that made him universally respected. It is also the reason he supported Buckingham University, because it promoted free expression as central to its purpose.”

The IEA offers its sympathies to Lord Field’s family and many friends.  

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