STEPHEN GLOVER: Why I’m backing Lord Frost – a proper Tory and a worthy successor to Boris Johnson – to take the porngate MP’s seat
The point made time and again about Boris Johnson is that he has no plausible successor waiting in the wings. It’s true, of course. There are some promising up-and-coming ministers but they don’t yet have the experience for the top job.
Reviewing the immediate contenders in case Boris falls — or is pushed — under a bus, one’s heart doesn’t jump for joy. Is Rishi Sunak ready for it? Does Liz Truss seem substantial enough? Could Jeremy Hunt hack it?
All these, and two or three dark horses in the Cabinet, fancy their chances, and are busy buttering up Tory MPs and selected journalists. Yet even many of those who despair of the Prime Minister are inclined, having examined the field, to stick with the devil they know.
Stephen Glover believes that former Brexit minister Lord Frost (pictured) could be the person to take over from Boris Johnson, though he would need to take ex-MP Neil Parish’s seat
In 2019 Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured canvassing yesterday) won the general election with a landslide majority of 80 seats, since then Stephen Glover thinks there have been few plausible successors
Admittedly, few politicians look authentically prime ministerial before the crown passes to them. Even Margaret Thatcher, elected Tory leader in 1975, wasn’t widely accepted by her party until Britain won the Falklands War in 1982, by which time she had been in No 10 for three years.
But there is one person who already looks and talks like a leader. Lord Frost, who negotiated the Brexit deal, is being urged to stand down as a Conservative peer to contest the Tiverton and Honiton seat in Devon, where the MP, Neil Parish, has resigned after admitting that he watched porn in the Commons chamber.
At the last election, Mr Parish won a huge majority of more than 24,000. Although some people who voted for him in 2019 may be disenchanted with the Tories on account of his behaviour, and there may be a normal mid-term reaction against the Government, a strong Conservative candidate would surely retain the seat.
Former MP Neil Parish’s seat in Tiverton and Honiton seat will be up for grabs
Will it be Lord Frost? I hope so. He would have to renounce his life peerage to stand for the Commons, but having cast the bauble aside he could easily pick it up again once he had served his country.
Whether this would be as a senior Cabinet minister or as Tory leader or prime minister, time would decide. He is untested in the crucible of parliamentary politics, and as a political campaigner.
But in almost every other respect he is clearly suited to high office. To borrow the phrase which Boris Johnson used about the Brexit deal before the 2019 election, Lord Frost is ‘oven-ready’.
Since he resigned last December as Brexit Minister — he was unhappy about the prospect of further coercive Covid regulations, and also expressed concerns about the Government’s ‘current direction of travel’ — he has carefully set out his political stall.
In a series of speeches, interviews and articles, Lord Frost has spelt out his misgivings about the way things are going without ever expressing any hostility towards Boris, whom he evidently likes and admires.
He opposed the increase in National Insurance last month on the basis that Conservatives shouldn’t continue to raise taxes, which are now higher than they have been for more than 70 years. Good heavens! The man sounds like a proper Tory!
Though accepting the reality of climate change, he believes the costs of meeting ‘net zero’ as soon as 2050 will be too onerous for society, and a more pragmatic approach is needed.
Lord Frost also thinks that lockdown, and other draconian Covid measures employed during the pandemic, must never be repeated. In his view, the avalanche of restrictions unleashed by the Government was profoundly unConservative.
The former Brexit Minister also argues that the Northern Ireland protocol — which effectively puts a trade barrier down the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland — must be replaced. Granted, he negotiated it, but only because Mr Johnson deemed there was no other way of achieving Brexit.
One hesitates to use the word ‘Thatcherite’ to describe Lord Frost since this is a different era with its own distinct problems. But while the Government seems to have lost its way, and appears almost socialist in its high-tax, high-spending proclivities, he cleaves to fundamental Conservative beliefs in freedom and individual responsibility.
Lord Frost has demonstrated his skills as a politician during the Brexit negotiations (pictured)
In short, unlike our Prime Minister, or indeed virtually anyone in the Cabinet, he champions Tory values in a quiet, determined and intelligent way — and without worrying about upsetting anyone.
You may say that it is easier to do this when you are outside government than when you are running the show. That’s true. Being in power inevitably involves compromise. But who in the present Cabinet has ever embraced Conservative principles with Lord Frost’s consistency and rigour when not in power?
He seems to me an extremely unusual politician inasmuch as — again, like Margaret Thatcher — he is able to combine an attention to detail with an enthusiasm for the bigger picture.
On the one hand, he showed during the Brexit negotiations with his opposite number, the supercilious Michel Barnier, a mastery of the nitty-gritty of which no politician I can think of (with the possible exception of Michael Gove) would be capable.
These were skills he honed as a high-flying diplomat, becoming Ambassador to Denmark at the age of 41. (As a burgeoning Eurosceptic, he was a very rare beast in the Foreign Office.) With this devotion to detail he is, of course, quite unlike Boris.
And yet, on the other hand, he demonstrates a feeling for political ideas not often to be found in someone who is so much at home trawling through chapter and verse of an international treaty.
One of his obsessions, for example, is the need for reform of the civil service — which he knows much more intimately than almost any other politician — and of the broader machinery of government. This cause was abandoned when Dominic Cummings was sacked as the PM’s chief adviser at the end of 2020.
If Lord Frost were given a brief to shake up the civil service — and still more if he were Prime Minister — the ‘blob’ which dumbly resists all change, and defends every vested interest, would find itself under attack from a highly informed and resolute politician.
All right — let’s not run before we can walk. Let’s see Lord Frost back in the Cabinet first, in the hope that he won’t be resisted by Boris Johnson out of fear or jealousy, and observe what happens.
As I say, we don’t know how effective he would be on the stump, or how well he would come across in the media. Though, that said, he comes from a modest background, being born in Derby and educated in Nottingham. My guess is that he would relate to Red Wall Tories. He understands their hopes and fears.
Look not just at the Cabinet but at the even more mediocre Shadow Cabinet. How could we not want Lord Frost, with all his singular qualities, back at the centre of our national life?
This country faces months, if not years, of formidable problems, from Russian aggression to soaring inflation to plummeting living standards. The Tory high command as presently constituted does not seem very well suited to cope with these challenges.
It’s time for Lord Frost to leave the sidelines and enter the fray again. Let’s hope he has the courage to stand in Tiverton and Honiton so that he can help rescue the country he plainly loves.
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