On Thursday, long-time Labour Party MP Frank Field penned a letter to the opposition’s Chief Whip, announcing his resignation from the party’s group in Parliament. While emphasising his intention to remain as an independent MP for his Birkenhead constituency, Field cited the ongoing issue of anti-Semitism and the ‘culture of nastiness’ within the party as reasons for his resignation from the Labour whip. Although Field’s critics within the Labour Party have argued he was already facing de-selection by local party members, the situation further emphasises the ever-growing unrest within the party itself.
Deputy Leader Tom Watson was quick to express regret at Field’s resignation. Watson, who has been vocal in his resentment for anti-Semitism in the party, described Field’s decision as a ‘serious loss’ which reflected ‘deep divisions’ within the party. Fellow MP Mary Creagh also issued support for Field. In a tweet, Creagh said that Field’s resignation ‘speaks volumes about the state of our party’.
Despite a number of responses issuing regret at Field’s resignation, several high-profile figures were significantly more hostile. Notably, Jeremy Corbyn himself, who issued a short response and failed to acknowledge any regret for Field’s decision. Similarly, socialist commentator Owen Jones tweeted that Field was ‘about to be deselected by his local Labour Party after voting to prop up the Tory government, and jumped before he was pushed’.
The difference in reaction from across the party spectrum perfectly highlights the reasons for Field’s resignation and, to go one step further, even justifies them. There’s a growing sense that any individuals who attempt to address the issues of anti-Semitism and toxicity within the Labour Party are seen as simply anti-Corbyn and thus trying to undermine party leadership. Moreover, suggestions that Field, who recently voted with the Conservative government, simply ‘jumped before he was pushed’ divert attention further from the key issues that Field and many others are trying to address.
Furthermore, a minority of party associates view Field’s resignation as a positive move. Yet this attitude seriously discredits the near forty years of work and dedication given to their party by the Birkenhead MP, who retained his seat at the 2017 election with a majority of over 25,000. During his time with the party, Field has fearlessly campaigned with Labour values at the forefront of his political agenda. From campaigning against child poverty to confronting Philip Green over the BHS pensions scandal, those trying to pigeonhole Field as a Tory sympathiser are simply wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the course of a summer in which Labour could have made significant gains over the Conservatives, the party has been bogged down with ongoing issues of anti-Semitism and toxicity, especially at local level. This crisis within the Labour Party is self-inflicted and could have been quashed before it even became an issue. Since its inception, Labour has always been a broad church, attracting supporters from various backgrounds and beliefs. However, if they continue on this current path, Field’s resignation could have a domino effect amongst moderate Labour MPs, possibly triggering the biggest split in the party since 1981.