Joining Labour’s Front Bench in 1981 Frank served as shadow schools minister in Neil Kinnock’s Education team and when Neil became leader was appointed Shadow Health Minister. In that job he set up a campaigning organisation called NHS Unlimited which produced authoritative bulletins on the state of the NHS. He conducted a nationwide survey which revealed the Government’s cervical cancer call and recall scheme was only fully operational in 6 health districts. The resultant publicity forced the Government to put a properly operational scheme in place. He also conducted a national survey based on advice from Professor Robert Winston on the availability of infertility treatment. He argued strongly in support of the Warnock Report on human fertilisation and embryo research which eventually led to the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. He also played a major part in the successful efforts to block a private members bill introduced by Enoch Powell which would have outlawed embryo research.
On being elected to the Shadow Cabinet Frank was appointed Shadow Leader of the House and campaign co-ordinator. In the former role, to the irritation of the House of Commons establishment, he took over the job of dealing with the weekly Business Questions. This task previously fell to the Leader of the Opposition, who was thus saving a great deal of precious time. As campaigns co-ordinator he provided Labour MPs and candidates with a weekly topical briefing and draft press releases.
On becoming Shadow Energy Secretary Frank set up Labour’s Petrol Price Monitoring Unit which by way of a series of authoritative bulletins exposed the fact that the fuel price increases attributed to the threat of the first Gulf War were nothing more than a racket. This was eventually accepted by most commentators. He coined the phrase ‘Dash for Gas’ and warned that the UK gas supplies were limited and that Britain was close to becoming a net importer of fuel. He sought to promote energy saving and wind, hydro and solar power.
When John Smith became Leader, Frank was appointed Shadow Employment Secretary and sought to shift the Labour Party approach away from just talking about unemployment to promoting a more positive contribution by the employment service, to improve training and practical help to people without jobs. In particular he drew attention to the Thatcher government’s assault on apprenticeships.
He was then moved to Shadow Transport Secretary and Shadow Minister for London. On the death of John Smith he was appointed Shadow Local Government and Environment Secretary. He gave top priority to establishing a ‘rebuttal’ unit whose job was to get at the facts quickly to enable the rapid rebuttal of bad stories in the Tory press and BBC about Labour councils. Most such stories were shown not to be true. In this phase he also promoted positive stories about the achievements of Labour councils. In the middle of a very dry period characterised by widespread hose pipe bans Frank revealed that 826 million gallons of water were leaking every day from water companies’ pipes. Up to that time the water companies had successfully promoted the myth that the leakage was from customers’ pipes.