Page last updated at 15:02 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 16:02 UK

Thatcher joins Field's 30th bash

By Ben Wright
Political correspondent, BBC News

Frank Field
Mr Field is not seen as a friend of the current prime minister

At first, few of the guests noticed she was there.

Friends of Frank Field had congregated at Church House in Westminster for a party to celebrate his 30 years in Parliament, a gathering of politicians, church leaders, policy pros and journalists.

The Labour MP for Birkenhead, who has spent three decades putting forward provocative ideas, has always had friends (and foes) on both sides of the House of Commons.

Conservative grandees such as Nicholas Soames mingled in a crowd that included current and former cabinet ministers.

But it was not until the speeches that the Lady's pale, perfectly coiffured presence was noted and a frisson went round the room.

Most people do not remember - or perhaps never knew - that Mr Field played an unlikely role in the downfall of Baroness Thatcher.

Two nights before she was forced out of office in 1990, he took himself off to Downing Street to tell the prime minister bluntly that her time was up.

'Think the unthinkable'

They had become friends and he admired her steel and grip on the government machine.

Convinced that her Conservative colleagues were too weak to tell her straight that she could not win the leadership race, Mr Field advised her to back John Major.

He was then smuggled out of Downing Street's back door.

Almost 20 years on, Mr Field would willingly do the same with the current occupant of Number 10, but it is unlikely he would be let in.

The man he would probably like to see lead the Labour Party is Alan Johnson - and the home secretary was at the party to hear Mr Field reminisce about his own short-lived stint in government.

Recruited by Tony Blair to "think the unthinkable" on welfare reform, it ended quickly and acrimoniously after a bust-up with Harriet Harman (his then colleague at the Department of Social Security) and the Treasury.

Mr Field remembered how, as he made his resignation speech to the Commons in 1998, Labour whips had passed notes through the chamber telling MPs to disrupt his speech by walking out.

Many did. But not Mr Johnson.

"He tore up the note, put it in the box in front of him and sat still," said Mr Field.

"And swore!" added the home secretary.

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