Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thinking the Unthinkable

Frank Field used to be one of my favourite MPs, a Christian socialist not afraid to speak his mind. But after his contribution to the Labour leadership debate today I am reminded of Clem Attlee's memorable retort to Harold Laski: "A period of silence from you would now be welcome."

Writing in today's Guardian, Field argues that it is time for Labour to skip a generation to David Miliband, arguing that Gordon Brown's position as leader-in-waiting arises merely from a misguided sense of indebtedness to him for not splitting the party last time round rather than any assessment of his ability.

As that astute observer David Herdson has pointed out on Political Betting, Field's article comes over more as a justification for not electing Brown than an argument for electing the Boy David.

Coming in the wake of last Thursday's astonishing gaffe on Question Time last Thursday - which will be used mercilessly against Gordon by the Tories - it also displays the impeccable timing of the consummate political operator - not.

Field urges us to draw from the "lessons" of history, in which natural heirs apparent who take over have ended up making a botch of things (Chamberlain, Eden) while unexpected dark horses who overtook the favourite have gone on to electoral success (Baldwin, Major.)

I would simply urge Field to look at three more recent and pertitent examples of where a decision to pass over the natural successor has badly backfired on the party concerned: Foot over Healey in 1980, Hague over Clarke in 1997, IDS over Portillo and Clarke in 2001.

The sad truth about Frank Field is that he is an embittered man who blames Brown for the failure of his welfare reform green paper in 1998 when he was challenged to "think the unthinkable," and for his subsequent sacking from the Government.

I hate to speak ill of a fellow Christian, but this article ought to ensure that the process of estrangement from the Labour Party, which has been going on ever since that abrupt dismissal, is now complete.

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Praguetory said...

Why shouldn't he be embittered? He was sold down the river by the Labour leadership who instead chose a spineless and ulitimately very damaging policy line on welfare. Is criticism of Brown within Labour a matter for dismissal? If so, at least it goes to show that Brown not Blair is running the country.

RedEye said...

He disagrees with Brown in principle re. means testing.

Given your dislike of New Labour's blacker arts, Paul, I would have thought you might have deprecated the way in which Field was sniped at by New Labour spinners after his resignation, including the laughable insult that Field (respected in both parties for his expertise on the benefits system) was nothing more 'than a political joke'. After that, all the briefings about Mo Mowlam's health, and the desire to 'f**k Gilligan' (a desire which had tragic consequences for Dr David Kelly), were not all that surprising.

Blair also treated him with total disrespect by leaving the Chamber when Field rose to make his resignation speech.

All the same, I disagree with Field's call for Miliband to be made leader.