Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Terry Fields Obituary

Left-wing Labour MP, trade unionist and activist
Born March 8 1937; died June 28 2008

Terry Fields, the former Liverpool Labour Party MP, who has died of lung cancer aged 71, may have been expelled from the party he worked so hard for in a purge of left-wingers. He will be remembered, however, as one of Westminster’s finest constituency members, whose belief in equality for all saw him jailed for 60 days after refusing to pay his Poll Tax, only to be effectively disowned by the Labour Party leadership. One of the key figures of Militant, the so-called party within a party who dominated Liverpool Labour politics in the 1980s, Fields was a radical trade unionist, a fiery and impassioned orator, and at heart a moralist who, even at the end of his life, kept faith in the power of the common man and woman.

Born in Bootle the son of a docker, Fields joined the fire brigade following National Service, and for a time played in a skiffle group. He became active within his trade union, and was an early activist for Militant within the Labour Party in the 1970s. By the early 1980s, Militant dominated the scene, and Fields became a prospective parliamentary candidate. In what was a disastrous election nationally for Labour, Fields took a safe Tory seat in Liverpool Broadgreen, campaigning on the ticket of a worker’s MP taking a worker’s wage. Fields stayed true to his promise, taking home only an average fire fighter’s wage, donating the rest to the labour movement, with Militant a prime beneficiary.

Fields was re-elected in 1987, almost doubling his majority while the rest of Labour crashed and burned. Liverpool City Council’s ongoing confrontation with Margaret Thatcher had come to a head at the 1986 party conference that saw Liverpool Walton MP Eric Heffer leave the stage in disgust at Neil Kinnock’s vilification of the city’s leaders. Fields backed the councillors to the hilt.

Fields also became active in the anti poll tax movement, which would eventually depose Thatcher from office. In 1991 Fields was imprisoned for 60 days in Walton jail for none-payment. The only other elected politician to do similar was one Tommy Sheridan, also of Militant, an organisation significant for its close ties between industrial cities such as Liverpool and Glasgow. A note of condolence from Sheridan appears on his Solidarity party website. Despite being supported in the National Executive Committee hearings by West Lothian MP Tam Dalyell, Fields was expelled, and served the rest of his time in Westminster as an independent.

Fields lost his seat in 1992 to Labour candidate Jane Kennedy. With no safety net to fall back on, Fields managed a pub, The Mayflower, in Liverpool city centre, until he retired. In the years that followed he volunteered for the Citizens Advice Bureau and ran his allotment. He never joined the Socialist Party, formed from the ashes of Militant after they abandoned the tactic of entyism to stand alone. Fields retained, though, firm socialist principals until the end of his life. This is more than can be said for most politicians if the last twenty years.

In 2002, Fields’ old fireman instincts came to the fore when he saved a woman in a burning building. As with much else he’d achieved, it was a brave and selfless act.

Fields is survived by his wife, Maureen, his children, Michael, Paula and Stephan, ten grand-children and one great-grand-child.

The Herald, June 2008

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