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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 September, 2004, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Seven year glitch?
Labour Party
Frank Field says there is a power struggle at the heart of Labour

In a HARDtalk interview broadcast on 13 September, Jon Sopel talks to former Labour Welfare Minister Frank Field about how New Labour can regain the political initiative, with elections not far on the horizon.

No sooner had Tony Blair returned from his summer break than a member of his cabinet presented a resignation letter.

The departure of Andrew Smith, the Minister for Pensions, has been interpreted as another sign of the rift between Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Frank Field was appointed Minister for Welfare Reform in Tony Blair's first government in 1997.

Famously, Field was mandated to "think the unthinkable".

But he resigned the following year as his welfare modernisation programme stalled.

Field attributes this failure to the influence of Gordon Brown.

Looking back on his short ministerial career, Field said: "The Prime Minister should have over-ruled the Chancellor. I underestimated the power structure within the government."


Frank Field told HARDtalk that the relationship between Blair and Brown continues to pose difficulties for the Labour party.

"There is this great power struggle going on continuously at the heart of government", he said.

But despite this issue, Field said, Labour remained "more attractive than the other alternatives".

He said that he was "sad" Tony Blair remained unpopular in Britain, but that he still "looked the part" of prime minister, and remains the Labour Party's "best electoral asset".

New Labour's legacy

Field compared New Labour's historic political victory in 1997 to that of Clement Attlee's after the Second World War.

But he said he was sceptical about whether the party had a consistent ideology.

Field said: "The Third Way was a very good slogan to shoehorn out a Tory government, it wasn't a strategy."

Field said he would like the party's new agenda to focus on the decline of "social virtue" and "common decency".

He says that the "new barbarism" in society needs to be addressed immediately, through urgent reforms of policing and the social benefits system.

Field said the stock of "goodwill capital" Blair's government had seven years ago has now dissipated, largely because of the use of political spin.

This will make it harder to push through the government's modernisation programme.

Field said that Blair had a problem with trust even before the war in Iraq, which has made the issue worse.

Foreign Policy

Frank Field voted in favour of military intervention in Iraq last year.

He said he did so because Saddam Hussein was "the most evil leader in the world".

However, he said he regretted not asking the Prime Minister certain questions before the war, including: "We have got our plans worked out for day two haven't we? Do you know precisely what has to be done when the regime is toppled?"

Field said that Tony Blair's "bold" foreign policy contrasted with his "cautious" domestic policy.

HARDtalk can be seen on BBC World at 03:30 GMT, 08:30 GMT, 11:30 GMT, 15:30 GMT, 18:30 GMT and 23:30 GMT

It can also be seen on BBC News 24 at 04:30 and 23:30


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