Frank Field resigns whip over anti-Semitism to stand as an independent Labour MP

30 August 2018

PA

Frank Field

Frank Field

THE veteran MP Frank Field has resigned the Labour Party whip and will sit as an independent Labour MP in the House of Commons, he announced on Thursday.

In a letter to the Opposition Chief Whip, Nick Brown MP, Mr Field, an Anglican, cited Labour’s “toleration of anti-Semitism” and a “culture of nastiness, bullying, and intimidation” within the Party as the two reasons for his resignation.

“The first centres on the latest example of Labour’s leadership becoming a force for anti-Semitism in British politics. The latest example, from last week, comes after a series of attempts by Jeremy [Corbyn] to deny that past statements and actions by him were anti-Semitic. . .

“It saddens me to say that we are increasingly seen as a racist party. This issue alone compels me to resign the whip.”

This week, the Council of Christians and Jews criticised Mr Corbyn for using an “anti-Semitic trope” after footage from 2013 emerged in which he said that British Zionists had “no sense of English irony” (News, 31 August).

Mr Field, speaking on Thursday, said: “I hope that the Labour Party will begin to be seen again as the leading party against racism, which it has always been in the past.”

He accepted that he had not been particularly outspoken before on the issue of anti-Semitism. His constituency did not have a large Jewish community, as it had in the past — “I wish that were still true” — and, when others had taken the lead in the Commons, he had not felt the need to add to what they said, although he wanted to be associated with them.

“The Labour Party should adopt the Universal Declaration, the whole of it, but also add to it. I should want to be able to criticise the government of Israel as [that of] any other country, France for example, but I should not do so as an anti-Semite doing it.”

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The bulk of Mr Field’s letter concerns the behaviour of the hard Left in the Labour Party: “The second reason is that a culture of intolerance, nastiness, and intimidation now reigns in too many parts of the Party nationally and is sadly manifest within my own Constituency Labour Party (CLP) in Birkenhead.

“This is, I fear, just one example of a phenomenon that has tightened its grip on CLPs across the country and is being driven, in part, by members who in previous years would never have been able to claim Labour Party membership.”

He writes that he will continue to serve the people of Birkenhead, where he has been MP since 1979. He will remain a party member, he said on Thursday, but has told his local constituency Labour Party that he will not attend meetings until they apologise for their behaviour, which includes secretly filming meetings.

He hopes to seek the whip again “as soon as possible”, but sees no prospect of this in the near future.

“Few events would give me greater pleasure than to apply to the Parliamentary Labour Party for the whip. But great changes in the leadership’s stance on the issues outlined in this letter will need to take place before I will be able to do so.”

Mr Field is a former member of the General Synod, and chaired the Cathedrals Fabric Commission. He also, for a time, chaired the Churches Conservation Trust. In an interview in the Church Times in 2008, he said that he wanted to be remembered for “having enormous fun representing Birken­head, and for having influenced political debate” (Features, 18 November 2008).

He will continue to chair the Work and Pensions Select Committee, in which position he has been a frequent critic of the Government’s roll-out of Universal Credit. He also co-chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain.

He said on Thursday that he had not consciously considered his conscience or faith in the matter, or thought “What would a Christian do?” His faith was deeply engrained, “an affair of the heart. . . You do what you have to do.”

 

The letter in full:

To the Rt Hon Nick Brown MP, Opposition Chief Whip

30 August 2018

I am writing with considerable sadness to inform you of my intention to sit as an Independent Labour Member of Parliament. I am resigning the whip for two principal reasons.

The first centres on the latest example of Labour’s leadership becoming a force for anti-Semitism in British politics. The latest example, from last week, comes after a series of attempts by Jeremy to deny that past statements and actions by him were anti-Semitic. Britain fought the Second World War to banish these views from our politics, but that superhuman effort and success is now under huge and sustained internal attack. The leadership is doing nothing substantive to address this erosion of our core values. It saddens me to say that we are increasingly seen as a racist party. This issue alone compels me to resign the whip.

The second reason is that a culture of intolerance, nastiness, and intimidation now reigns in too many parts of the Party nationally and is sadly manifest within my own Constituency Labour Party (CLP) in Birkenhead. This is, I fear, just one example of a phenomenon that has tightened its grip on CLPs across the country and is being driven, in part, by members who in previous years would never have been able to claim Labour Party membership.

My original submission to the Party on a specific bullying issue goes back eighteen months. Many submissions have since come from me as well as from loyal Party members. No decisive action has been taken. At best, the Party’s failure to act on these numerous complaints about the thuggish conduct of some members demonstrates a wilful denial. At worst, it serves to legitimise appalling levels of bullying and intimidation of lifelong Labour supporters.

You know that I wrote to the Labour Party nine months ago about the atrocious behaviour of the then councillor Louise Reecejones. That Ms Reecejones should not be a member of the Party, let alone represent us in public positions, has been underscored by decisions taken by Wirral Council.

As you know, she was found guilty of using her position as a councillor to intimidate members of the public. She has refused to apologise properly for her behaviour, and for breaching the Council’s code of conduct, even though one of those on the receiving end of her attack has only now a precarious hold on their livelihood.

The charge sheet against this individual’s suitability ever to hold office, let alone represent the Labour Party, has been detailed to you in separate correspondence. While she was withdrawn as a Council candidate in Wallasey, she has still been able to join the Party’s shortlist for another seat and continues to hold an official position within the local Party.

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I intend to continue to represent Birkenhead in Westminster, as I have had the honour to do so for almost 40 years, and I will do so as an Independent Labour Member. I shall of course remain a Party member as I have been since 1960. The values I have espoused during this time will be same that will continue to govern my conduct and I also intend, providence willing, to represent those views when the next election is called.

Few events would give me greater pleasure than to apply to the Parliamentary Labour Party for the whip. But great changes in the leadership’s stance on the issues outlined in this letter will need to take place before I will be able to do so. 

Best wishes

Frank Field

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