On February 19 the University of York welcomed Frank Field as the latest in a series of public talks organised by the York Union. Frank Field has been Labour MP for Birkenhead since 1979, and has also served as Minister for Welfare Reform. Mr. Field is a renowned politician, famous for his interest in social welfare, environment and economic issues as well as his direct critique of the Labour party from in his backbencher capacity, talked about his career.
Mr. Field started by explaining that he is very cautious about mentioning the “political success” he has experienced during his career as he considers politics to be a complicated matter, where the politician is required to take into consideration different societal interests as well as the interests of the society as a whole. As Mr. Field highlighted further, this dedication to work is what he had learned during his childhood witnessing how dedicated and committed his parents were towards their work.
This effectively implies that every politician has a special privilege as well as a responsibility: to make decisions by trying to act on behalf of society and its needs, rather than making decisions based on his/her personal interests and principles. This challenge, in Mr. Field’s words, can be resolved successfully only by thinking pragmatically, which in practice means that when one is faced with different political problems, it is necessary to think what solution is actually going to work and really improve the position of people in need. On the contrary, when politicians make decisions depending on their ideological viewpoint, the problems are likely to multiply. According to Mr. Field, this problem is particularly evident in the British welfare system, which suffers from different programmes created by both parties, which means that the system becomes unstable, weak and fragmented, which only raises further the need to adopt a pragmatic and consistent approach to the British welfare system. One of the immediate practical measures is to introduce a “culture of responsibility” within the British welfare system, where people know how and why they pay and what exactly they get from the state.
Mr. Field continued by highlighting the negative impact of economic inequality on the British society. In his words, economic inequality affects every family and individual in the UK, and it needs to be tackled in order to provide a brighter prospect for future generations. Nonetheless, he cautioned against taking a historically simplistic perspective on the problem by blaming the existing problems to the neoliberal legacy of Mrs. Thatcher. Instead, Mr. Field insisted that Mrs. Thatcher had had positive intentions whilst creating a set of economic ideas, which were fresh and innovative for her era. The real problem is that after all the years of the neoliberal regime, we as individuals and as a civil society had failed to create any alternative approach to economics.
The most vivid example of this failure, in his view, is the current austerity programme, which was developed directly aftermath 2007 Economic Crisis. Mr. Field argued that whilst the austerity programme of the current coalition government has few advantages, it failed in taking the responsibility for the crisis as well as less directly failing to create an innovative thinking about economics. As a result, people on the street haven’t completely understood the nature of the problems as well as the exact reasons for adopting an austerity problems. Mr. Field concluded with an optimistic idea that the existing economic and social problems require the negotiations both between parties and across sections of society and only once every opinion is taken into consideration, we as society can design a successful and effective programme to tackle the economic ills of our society.