Steerpike

Lord Frost’s free-market foray

Lord Frost's free-market foray
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Away from the shenanigans of Downing Street's Christmas parties, another festive bash was being held last night just down the road in Westminster. Mr S was among those at One Birdcage Walk enjoying the hospitality of the Adam Smith Institute's annual shindig, where Lord Frost enlivened the evening with a stalwart defence of free-market principles against the tide of interventionism. Britain's Brexit supremo raised some eyebrows in No. 10 last week with his comments at the Thatcher Conference on the need to diverge quicker from the 'European social model' adding 'I agree with the Chancellor – our goal must be to lower taxes.'

And it was that same message Frost returned to in his speech, as he told the assembled neoliberals that 'the spirit of divergence, the spirit of doing things differently, still needs to be spread in Whitehall and the country and we're just beginning that process.' Frost's role, as he sees it, is to 'drive forward those opportunities' presented by Britain leaving the European Union and keep 'the government focused on its strategic goal on what we're really about on Brexit and not sort of lost in the weeds of the day to day problems.' He quipped: 'I think of it myself, a bit less social distancing and a bit more socialist distancing on the way forward.' Cue laughs all round.

Lavishing praise on his hosts for their willingness to fight for such causes in the 1970s when – in his words – 'really hard core socialism stalked the land', Frost remarked that:

I have a sort of theory that free markets do very well when they're working against the climate of opinion rather than with it. Certainly one of the great periods of the Adam Smith Institute and others was the Seventies when you were working against the climate of opinion when it seemed that governments know best, when politicians knew best how to do things, when you're working against the climate of opinion and everything seemed to be against you, we had to make the case for free markets again. So I guess if my theory is right, you're about to enter a period of exponential growth.

Mr S wonders what Frost's boss, the self-avowed capitalist Boris Johnson, will make of such a charge. As a former ambassador to Denmark, Frost exercises both charm and discretion in such remarks. Yet despite his affection for his former department, the former Foreign Office mandarin's frustration was clear when he turned to the testimony of the Afghanistan whistleblower:

That undead afterlife of EU views about things is still around and if anyone doesn't believe me, just look at the evidence from Raphael Marshall this morning to the Foreign Affairs Committee where he says that he was not allowed to send certain data to the US because it broke European data law and obviously whichever FCDO official told him that had forgotten that we had left the European Union seven months earlier.

Frost concluded with a plea to the ASI and the wider think tank eco-system in Westminster to 'please keep it up, keep the pressure on'– something no doubt Treasury press officers will remember the next time they're the subject of a stinging think-tank press release for hiking taxes in the Budget.

He was then presented with a bottle of the think-tank's patented whisky – 'Spirit of the Invisible Hand'' – designed by Maxwell Marlow and which bears the government health warning: 'not recommended for socialists, statists, bureaucrats, and mercantilists'. Frost accepted gladly and remarked that, as the former chief executive of the Scottish Whisky Association, 'I was always asked "What's your favourite whisky?" and that was always a question I never knew quite how to answer. So my favourite whisky was the one I'd just drunk – or just been given.'

Once a diplomat, always a diplomat.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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