Sketch: Frank Field rides in to the Referendum Horse Circus

According to Tony Blair's former welfare minister, Nigel Farage is riding Labour's horse off in to the sunset

Tom Peck
Parliamentary Sketch Writer
Tuesday 26 April 2016 17:53
Frank Field: a man to whom the Labour Party always listens even if it does not always agree
Frank Field: a man to whom the Labour Party always listens even if it does not always agree

“Harold Wilson thought politics was about being able to ride two horses at once,” warned Frank Field. “If you can’t do that you shouldn’t be in the political circus.”

Horses and the circus? For a moment I had the temerity to imagine Labour's great man might have mixed his metaphors. Reassuringly, I was wrong. In the eighteenth century, it transpires, the horse circus was big news. Dramatic works were written especially for them. Horses had their own named parts.

To the political horse circus then, which has arguably never been a stranger place than now. An angry, turbocharged dressage where everyone thinks it’s their turn at once, the music keeps changing every moment, no one knows what direction they’re meant to be going nor who’s taking who for a ride.

At the London Headquarters of Vote Leave, Labour veteran Frank Field, a man to whom the Labour Party always listens even if it does not always agree, spelled out his diagnosis of the problem. Jeremy Corbyn is a one horse man. A one trick pony. And upon the horse that Labour should be riding, Nigel Farage is romping home.

“The Labour leadership has signed up to the second longest suicide note in history,” he said. “We have suffered over the recent past a haemorrhage of votes to Ukip. This will be speeded up by this stance [to remain in the EU]. Do our political leaders not see that our people should be first in the queue not others?”

Labour, you might think, is in enough trouble as it is, without one of its more eloquent voices calmly stating the case for how its future depends on the gusto with which it is prepared to take up the immigrant bashing cause. But clearly, there are votes to be won in this anti-EU malarkey, and those votes should be Labour’s.

“People who single out the borders and immigration issue are crucial, because they are the people who have been on the receiving end of the newcomers,” he continued. “They are the ones that have suffered the pressure of their wages declining, the waiting for housing, they cannot choose schools for their children.”

In the referendum campaign so far, this was the rarest of interjections. A person whose position has not wavered, making an entirely honest contribution. Someone who is not a nutter, nor in the political debt of nutters. Not in a leadership contest, not swayed by ambition. Not being told what he must say by a parliamentary party by whom he is loathed but also leads.

Just the internal Labour party politics of the matter is enough to make the complexities of Syria look like an episode of He-Man.

“The party has been over represented by North London metropolitan elites,” Mr Field claimed. Well it isn’t anymore. Jeremy Corbyn’s in charge, who everybody likes because he’s more straightforward, but who has had a “Pauline conversion” on the EU because his party has told him he must, and so isn’t being very straightforward at all.

Then there’s the unfortunate matter that Leave vote might not do very much to “regain control of our borders” given free movement of people is highly likely to remain a condition of entry to the single market. “Vote Leave” officially aren’t bothered about re-entry to the single market, but even if their side wins, it won’t be them doing the negotiating.

“40 per cent of Labour voters are recorded as ones who wish to leave. That’s a basis on which we can build,” Mr Field said. “The Remain campaign is the government’s campaign and that’s another reason Labour voters will come out and give them a friendly punch on the nose.”

No doubt they will, but if they succeed, they’ll get Boris Johnson for their troubles, or worse, and for four more years. That’s a long time to be on the wrong horse.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in