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Frank Field's loyalty to Labour was always negotiable

FRANK FIELD has been accorded the highest accolade. He has been praised as being “as independent minded as Jeremy Corbyn.”

Labour’s leader acquired his reputation through serial opposition to apartheid, imperial wars, Tory (and Labour) austerity policies and a slew of dodgy PFI schemes pioneered by Tory governments and promoted by New Labour.

Field is not so much independent minded as minded to be independent of Labour’s values.

His fidelity to Labour is highly negotiable. While sitting as a Labour MP he was smuggled into 10 Downing Street to proffer advice to Margaret Thatcher who he considered “a hero.” This intimacy was renewed when became the coalition government’s “poverty tsar.”

Field’s politics are a mixed bag. Beyond his carefully cultivated persona of piety and probity he is a relentless militarist who voted consistently for the Iraq war and against investigations into it. By turns he is environmental campaigner and social policy theorist with a bent towards conservative ideas.

But serious scrutiny of his eclectic policy portfolio is now eclipsed by his betrayal. In claiming his departure was a consequence of Labour’s so-called “toleration of anti-semitism” he timed his resignation to coincide with an intensified campaign to destabilise the Corbyn leadership and harm Labour’s election chances.

He has put his  personal political survival before the interests of the party and the working class.

He will be able to count on wall-to-wall media support to survive a by-election. He may even enjoy the covert backing of the various right-wing strands of Labour parliamentary opinion. But sooner or later his theatrics will be forgotten.

The explanation for the timing of his resignation lies in his Birkenhead constituency vote of no confidence. Thus his tendentious reference to a “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in the Labour Party.

In real life, Labour’s recovery as a mass party of working people is the product of a happy synthesis of leadership and policy that has engendered a strikingly inclusive and popular political culture. Thus, even at the height of this highly concocted offensive we find thousands at music festivals breaking into spontaneous chorus of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn.”

The current offensive is focused on attacking the moral status of Corbyn. His opponents fear to attack his policies precisely because they are popular.

Practitioners of realpolitik among his advisers have the difficult task of devising a strategy that will return the focus to policy. It will be made easier if Labour plays to its renewed strengths.

New ways must be found to mobilise Labour’s enormous membership base for political initiatives that connect with the real-life problems of working people. Mobilising Momentum for winning internal party battles is a necessary task. By the same token, turning Momentum into a battleground to challenge party policies that bear the Corbyn imprint is a tactic dreamed up in Tory Party headquarters which quickens the pulses of Chuka Umunna and Peter Mandelson.

Hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters in the unions pay the political levy, have a say in party affairs but need to be drawn more directly into campaigning both as union members and as Labour supporters.

Labour activists should be involved in every local and national campaign but also the party itself needs to intervene with statements and policy proclamations with Labour’s candidates performing as tribunes of the people.

Labour is a mass federal party of working people that can unite the organisations of the popular, labour and trade union movements in a common project that would transform the  struggle to win government office into a battle for working class political power.

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