Field of dreams
Over a decade ago, Labour MP Frank Field was offered an exciting, reforming role in a new government led by a charismatic, energetic and idealistic Prime Minister who wanted him to ‘think the unthinkable’. Yesterday a rather similar thing happened. His decision to accept the post of ‘Poverty Tsar’ is, aside from anything else, brave. That last appointment ended in bitter betrayal when, having fulfilled his brief, Mr. Field was attacked and vilified by his own party for having been too radical, too clever and too principled in his ideas. He must hope, stepping once more into the breach, that history will not repeat itself.
But his decision to accept this role speaks to more than simply his own courage and integrity – although it does that in spades. It is part of a genuine feeling of ‘newness’ about our politics, a collegiate and collaborative sense of national interest that does, for now at least, seem to have been ushered in by the Cameron-Clegg alliance. Field believes, fervently, in attacking poverty and improving the lives of our most deprived and he has leapt at the chance to act upon that passionate belief in social justice. He has done this because he can see that – if only by virtue of expediency – now is really the time for a Government of all talents. Cameron, had he won an outright majority, would have ruled alone with the Conservative party - but he wasn’t. He has forged a coalition out of need but it is functioning in a way that no government has done since the Second World War, in a way that is genuinely open, pragmatic and which emphasises the collective responsibility of those involved like none in recent memory. A man like Frank Field – who despite the detractions of his less grown-up colleagues is a Labour man through-and-through – can safely be part of this government because of its breadth and its scope, because it already includes those who have sacrificed narrow party interest for the sake of their nation and their democracy.
We can be grateful to Mr. Field, as ever, for doing the noble thing. But we can also be grateful to Cameron and to Clegg for coming together to, potentially, forge a politics in which GOATs can truly thrive. It may not last, the partisan interests of their respective parties may blow this grand alliance asunder, but – for a moment – they have shown us how politics could work in our country. It’s a satisfyingly, reassuringly selfless vision and if the only thing it achieves is the opportunity for Frank Field to make a long-awaited difference to the lives of this nation’s poor, it’s worth it!