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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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A tale of two offbeat defectors who swung left to rock the Tories

Frank Field                                                            Dan Poulter

This is a tale of two defectors, one a man of unshakeable principle, the other a man of no obvious political conviction – both Tories who switched their allegiance to Labour.

 

The first was Frank Field, Lord Field of Birkenhead, who died of cancer last week aged 81. Field was my sort of politician. In fact, he was everyone’s sort of politician.

 

He looked like a kindly churchwarden, and indeed he was both religious and had a passionate interest in the Anglican faith. I did not know until after his death that he used to attend the church that my sons were christened in, served as a councillor in the ward next to ours and lived in a flat above my favourite second-hand bookshop.

 

I also had the pleasure of dealing with him a couple of times when he had written pieces for the Sunday Express. I found him friendly and meticulous but also amenable and accommodating.

 

But his calm, reserved demeanour belied the glint of steel in his eyes. Field knew what he believed in and no amount of cajoling or bullying would cause him to betray those beliefs. This was a source of irritation and dismay to party whips and Prime Ministers alike.

 

His secret weapon was that he didn’t care about personal advancement. Whips couldn’t say: “Look here, Frank, why not back off, just keep shtum and we’ll see what we can do about a junior Minister’s post?” It would not work.

 

He spent 40 years as MP for Birkenhead, Merseyside, so they must have liked him there. He ran up against Derek Hatton’s Trots in the Eighties. They harassed him and hurled public abuse his way. They tried to de-select him. Field did not budge, telling Labour that if he were de-selected he would stand as an independent. They backed off.

 

Frank Field was a crusader, a lifelong campaigner against the iniquities of poverty. “He made poverty sexy. That’s a hard thing to do,” said Virginia Bottomley, a Tory MP who like Field had worked for the Child Poverty Action Group.

 

He believed in finding ways to help the poor to help themselves, rather than tossing them welfare crumbs. That was demeaning, to his mind, and created an underclass who relied on benefits perhaps for their whole lives.

 

Field was born into a South London working class family. His parents were aspirational Conservatives, which in those days you might take to mean Daily Express readers. His political heroine was Margaret Thatcher, who was his great friend right up to her death.

 

He left the Young Conservatives – or, as he put it, was “shoehorned out of the party” – aged 16 because he handed out anti-Apartheid leaflets. Later they would beseech him to return but he continued his subversive work as a Labour member.

 

He was Michael Foot’s Shadow Education Spokesman and Neil Kinnock’s Shadow Health and Social Security Spokesman. But his rebellious streak denied him high office.

 

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s spin doctor, called his ideas “crap”. Blair himself wrote of Field in his memoir: “Some are made for office. Some aren’t. He wasn’t. Simple as that.”

 

All water off a duck’s back for a man who believed in duty, conscience and public service.

 

Contrast that with our other defector, Doctor Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who announced at the weekend that he was crossing the floor to join Labour.

 

Poulter said he could no longer look his NHS colleagues and patients in the eye and stay on as a Conservative. So he has flounced out taking his ideas for reform of the NHS to Sir Keir Starmer.

 

We don’t know what they are yet because they will presumably have to gel with Starmer’s own – if he has any. In any case, they will almost certainly involve bunging another shed load of money at the problem on top of the £165 billion it costs already. And of course, the coffers are empty.

 

Unlike Field, who worked solely for his constituents, Poulter clung to his career outside politics. He spends 20 hours a week as a consultant psychiatrist and has done a series of shifts in an A&E department, which he says informed his decision to cross the House.

 

Poulter said he would stand down at the General Election and former Conservative colleagues in Ipswich won’t be sorry to see the back of him.

 

One, Ian Fisher, leader the Conservative Party group at Ipswich Borough Council, said on social media: “I’ve spent years standing up for him in north Ipswich. Was campaigning this morning and he didn’t have the decency to tell his hard-working activists in advance. A very self-centred man.”

 

Colleagues at Westminster claim they saw little of him in Parliament and some voters call him the Invisible Man in the constituency, which has never had a Labour MP in its 27-year history.

 

Poulter obviously doesn’t like politics and is probably better off out of it and working instead for the health service.

 

But isn’t it time to impress on MPs that it is a full-time job and barring them from outside work?

 *****

 It’s no good, I can’t stop laughing about the latest turn of events in the migrant crisis. It seems they are legging it to Northern Ireland, then crossing into the Republic to escape possible deportation to Rwanda.

 

The influx has caused civil unrest in the South. They can’t find homes for them all there and the health and welfare systems are coming under strain. Imagine! The fabled Irish welcome is wearing thin.

 

So now the Prime Minister in Dublin wants to send them all back across the border which, remember, the European Union has insisted must remain an open one. Downing Street says it proves the Rwanda policy really is a deterrent to illegal immigration.

 

But it adds we will only take the migrants back from Ireland if France does the same for those coming from there to Britain.

 

It is the law of unintended consequences, in all its ironic glory. I am fascinated to see how it will play out. It might even prove to be a game-changer and alter the mindset in Europe of suicide by liberalism.

 

In the meantime, allow me to enjoy a moment of schadenfreude.

 *****

 We might be witnessing the beginning of a fightback against the crazy political correctness that is strangling our right to hold any opinion other than those approved by the sanctimonious mob.

 

Social worker Rachel Meade, 55, who was suspended over her belief that a person cannot change their sex, has been awarded £58,000 in exemplary damages.

 

Meade, from Dartford, Kent, said: “I feel relieved and liberated that justice and freedom of speech has prevailed.”

 

She had sued Westminster City Council and the regulatory body Social Work England (SWE) for harassment and sex discrimination. After a member of the public complained about the posts she liked and shared on Facebook, she was given a one-year warning by SWE. The council accused her of gross misconduct and gave her a final written warning.

 

Tribunal judge Richard Nicolle said that SWE had “allowed its processes to be subverted to punish and suppress”. He called it a “serious abuse of its power” as a regulatory body.

 

Finally, someone gets it. It doesn’t matter whether you like or loathe Meade’s views – she has every right to hold them. It’s called democracy.

 

Most satisfying of all is that the tribunal called for the council and watchdog to train their staff in the principles of free speech.

 

I hope the council will review its wider practices too. This is the same council that recently trumpeted it would pick a “global majority” candidate if two applicants for a £119,000 housing post were of equal merit – to increase staff from under-represented groups.

 

I detest positive discrimination. It stems from the same mindset that plunged Rachel Meade into her ordeal by ire. Jobs should be handed out on merit, not according to skin colour.

 

Incidentally, Westminster City Council is giving out what it calls free period products to its workers – sanitary towels left in a box in the lavatory. The men’s lavatory, naturally.

 *****

Call me naïve, but I had no idea you could collect sick pay for being a bit depressed or anxious. The Times reported yesterday that the Government is having second thoughts about it in a pre-election benefits overhaul.

 

Half the journalists in Fleet Street could have been on it in the Seventies and Eighties. But I doubt it would have stopped them self-medicating in the time-honoured way.

 *****

Domino’s Pizza shares rose 3.6 per cent yesterday (Monday) on the back of a six per cent rise in revenue. The company says it is thanks to their loyalty programme and the launch of marketing on Uber Eats.

 

But don’t you think it is all to do with their TV ads? You know the ones, where they yodel for a pizza. They’re brilliant. I particularly like the one with a woman running alongside a departing train as her lover leans out of the window. “Robert, wait! I have something I need to say… Domin-oh-hoo-hoo”. Genius.

 *****

I was enjoying a piece on the sports pages of The Times about rugby referee Karl Dickson, a former Harlequins player who controversially officiated their match at the weekend. Until, that is, I came to the caption.

 

It read: “Dickson, left, and Care played with each other at Harlequins”. Step forward that sub. Do you not think “together” or “in the same team” would have been better?

 

If not, don’t forget your em rule on the way out.


RICHARD DISMORE


30 April 2024