Monday, January 26, 2009

Frank Field: My Part in Maggie's Downfall

A fascinating anecdote from the interview with Frank Field in yesterday's Sunday Times Magazine. Apparently he went to see Margaret Thatcher two days before her resignation. I have read virtually every book there is to read detailing the events of those terrible few days, but this was new to me...

Two nights before Mrs Thatcher lost office in 1990, Field — convinced few Tories had the guts to tell her the game was up — decided to visit Downing Street and tell her himself. “For some extraordinary reason, I used to have — and still do — a good relationship with her.” Informed that the PM was busy, he settled in a waiting room. After a while Norman Tebbit entered: “Frank, what do you want?” “I’ve come to tell the PM she’s finished. I suppose you won’t let me see her.” Shortly afterwards, Mrs T herself appeared, “trembling”, recalls Field, “as I imagine people do when told they have inoperable cancer.” Field found her a chair. “Frank, why have you come?” she asked in quavering tones. “I’ve come to tell you that you are finished. I’m not discussing fairness, Prime Minister, I’m discussing the options. You cannot now go on a top note, but you can go on a high note.” He told her that Michael Heseltine, who was leading the drive to unseat her, was vacuuming up MPs’ support in the race to be her successor. “Oh, Mr Heseltine is a dreadful bad man,” she said wearily. Field urged her to get her candidate in the race, and when she asked who that would be, said: “It’s obvious, Prime Minister. It’s the person you’ve promoted to all these offices — John Major.” “Major? He’s a very young man, Frank.”

“Time will take care of his age, Prime Minister, but if you don’t have your candidate, your successor will be Heseltine.”

Field was smuggled out the back way and no word of his visit was released to the press; we know, of course, how the story ended.
You can read the full profile of Frank Field HERE.

18 comments:

JMB said...

Has he visited Gordon Brown recently?

Man in a Shed said...

I think we've all been tangoed on that one - because we certainly didn't see it coming !

Components of Independence said...

I've read about this meeting before. I'm sure it is mentioned in John Campbell's book "Margaret Thatcher - The Iron Lady".

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Well, Field got that one badly wrong, didn't he?

Just think: we could have had a personality in Downing Street for seven years. Whatever one thinks of Heseltine, he is not a hole in the air.

Anyway, am I the only one to feel the Doomsday Times piece was -- well -- just a teensy bit hagiographic? All that "trim, almost boyish ... lost leader ... Will we see Field's like again?" stuff?

Curbishlyauto said...

Whatever one thinks of Heseltine, he is not a hole in the air.

Maybe. But we would have been fully integrated into Europe and the Euro by now.

Tory Boy said...

and possibly in John Sergeant's book too

ed said...

It has always baffled me why Frank Field isn't a Tory..

Jonathan Cook said...

I expect Brown would be far less approachable on this subject than Margaret Thatcher.

I can't see Gordon Brown managing to have an open, honest and constructive conversation on this topic with anyone.

I'd expect fury and telephones thrown around.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

May I convey thanks to Curbishlyauto @ 11.04 AM for reminding us of the reef on which all Tory Governments seem bound to founder?

As I recall, John Major was not invariably in harmony with his back-benchers on that issue. Who now remembers Major's pronunciamento of 2nd November 1989 (note the significance of that date):
Stage 1 [of the Delors plan], of course, also requires all Community currencies to join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system on the same terms. This we shall do ...

DespairingLiberal said...

Curbishlyauto (great name by the way!) - yes, and that would have meant right now our currency (the Euro) would have been stable and strong, we would have sound central financial management and strong, well controlled public finances. Er, am I missing anything. Duh.

The version the marvellous Mr Field gives is similar to that in the Alan Clarke diaries - Clarke has her surrounded by yes-men and flunkie-brains who don't advise her of anything meaningful. He doesn't mention Field seeing her, but appears to have been slightly semi-detached himself, just observing rather than being involved.

It is highly regrettable that Thatcher chose Major - I sometimes see her choice as being like that of a decadent Roman emperor, who, anxious to ensure that he looks good to history, appoints someone even worse than himself as his successor.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

ed @ 11.30 AM should wonder no longer.

Field is and remains an archetypal Tory of a particular bent. He didn't leave the Tory Party: he was chucked out (according to one account: the variant reading is that he "left" the Party).

Why?

Because, in advance of Macmillan's "wind of change" speech, he couldn't stomach the Party's support for apartheid South Africa.

And, yes, that story has previously appeared in this blog.

The attitudes and notions that Field trades on were illustrated by Christopher Logue's 1966 poem, I shall vote Labour. The last time I saw it (apart from on my book shelves) was on Bob Piper's blog, some years ago.

hatfield girl said...

There's something very eery about that account. The Prime Minister in Downing Street with a couple of decent friends while the rest of her party whispers and fixes outside the isolation zone she's been placed in. It's the 'What are you doing here, Frank?' as if he had unknowingly entered a bad place and should hurry away before it was too late.

DespairingLiberal said...

Yes, Hatfield Girl, it sounds really quite bizarre when you think about it - here is the most powerful postwar PM apparently cast adrift and not quite sure what's going on. The slightly sinister figure of Frank Field as undertaker.

I wonder what the British PM is really for these days, with all meaningful decisions taken by unelected international bodies like the EU Commission, WTO, US Senate, etc? Perhaps this story highlights the essential pointlessness of both the office and the Conservative Party in government.

John McClane said...

Shame Field didn't say, take a break, come back in 2009. The Conservatives (and the country) will really need you then.

Nigel said...

DespairingLiberal:
>>the essential pointlessness of both the office and the Conservative Party in government...<<

Projecting ?

Nigel said...

"Oh, Mr Heseltine is a dreadful bad man,”

Sounds uncannily like a line from Beatrix Potter.

Dick the Prick said...

If this is true, no probs. The man's a parliamentarian. Ringside seat eh? Well, he could do worse than chart now - bloody useless - oink oink.

corny said...

Just shows what a treacherous bastard Field is!