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13th February 2008

Frank Field at Exeter

On Sunday 10th February, Exeter College welcomed politician Frank Field to the Saskatchewan Room to what might be one of the most controversial, yet informed talks yet. MP for Birkenhead since 1979, he made headlines soon after 1997 when, ‘thinking the unthinkable’ regarding social security reform, he came into conflict with the new government and resigned his ministerial position shortly after.

Field began – not without a few twitches from the audience – in praise of Rowan Williams. ‘The Archbishop’, he said, ‘has started a debate we should have held forty years ago’, the matter in question being the curfuffle over Sharia law in the national press. From there, the talk pressed on to the urgent question of what it means to be British, and, in a political system whose role should be to nurture ‘character’, how such an identity can be upheld. ‘The politics of class has been replaced by the politics of behaviour’, Field believes, ‘and the political class over the last twenty years has been guilty of not nurturing a sense of national identity’.

For Field, a country where only 21% of the electorate voted for the party in power needs ‘to seriously remake what we mean by a representative and responsible government’. ‘Although as a Labour MP I’d like to put in one or two votes for the government, I am only able to do that by not listening to their arguments!’

The Rector Frances Cairncross called Field ‘one of the most interesting of all Labour MPs’, and one who in ‘nearly thirty years has shown a real concern for poverty and for his own constituents.’ Following his talk, few of Field’s listeners would disagree.

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