Frank Field remembered

Frank Field was the Labour MP for Birkenhead and a committed Christian.

Frank Field was that rare thing in politics – an MP who was near enough universally respected around the house. He died last week after some protracted and painful years living with cancer. You may not have heard of him. But if you have, then you would almost definitely disagree with him on something! He took positions that were surprising, given his place on the centre left of the Labour party. He was, however, universally considered to be the very model of a public servant.

Frank was born to a family of working class Conservatives, and he went on to become a Labour MP for 40 years until 2019, when he was deselected by his local party and lost his seat. His abiding conviction and motivation was to be an advocate for the poor, and he did not budge on this for all the many years he spent in Parliament.

He took many different roles in his time, but he excelled at none more than as a backbench MP. He campaigned on child poverty and low paid work for many years, long before the arrival of the minimum wage. He worked doggedly and practically against climate change, beginning his own charity 'Cool Earth' to empower indigenous communities to protect rainforests.

He so often held views that didn't fit with expectations. He publicly supported national service and Brexit, he opposed the EU model of immigration, and surprised many by nominating Jeremy Corbyn in his successful run for the Labour leadership. He both opposed increasing access to abortion, and yet supported increasing access to assisted dying.

As you can see, there was quite a lot on which I disagreed with him, but you knew he would tell you the truth, whether you wanted to hear it or not. Rumour has it, he told Mrs Thatcher that her time was up and she really ought to resign on the week that she did so, out of exasperation that her own cabinet could not say it to her face. Needless to say, his blunt honesty got him in trouble with many Labour leaders too.

So, deep rooted convictions, a deep rooted community presence, unflinching honesty, an independent mind, endurance for the long haul, and the patience and humility to recognise you might not set the world on fire, but you could nevertheless do some good. These qualities make for a superb public servant and it is what we should seek to learn from Frank's example.

I am drawn to this as we look ahead to the local elections this week. I did not know Frank well, but consistently spoke of a Christian faith that undergirded all of his work.

What if every local council had Christians who served with the kind of qualities Frank displayed? What if the decisions were made by people who unashamedly wept at stories of constituents skipping meals, who took no nonsense and didn't mind pointing it out, who held themselves with civility and professionalism, who largely avoided PR and instead put in the hard yards of loving a constituency wholeheartedly.

Frank was said to have only travelled around Birkenhead by foot and by bus. That says an awful lot about the man.

Let's pray for more Frank Fields at every level of our politics, and for a few more to be elected on Thursday. Every level of government responsibility will feel limited by position, circumstance, ability, and time. But what can we do with the little we're entrusted with? In Luke 16:10, Jesus says "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." Something we can say is that Frank Field was faithful with his little.

Tim Farron has been the Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale since 2005, and served as the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party from 2015 to 2017. Tim is also the host of Premier's A Mucky Business' podcast, which unpacks the murky world of politics and encourages believers around the UK to engage prayerfully. He is the author of A Mucky Business: Why Christians should get involved in politics.