In the wee small hours of the 1st of January, as 2018 crested into view, the news broke that journalist Toby Young had been appointed to the board of the new universities regulator, OfS (Office for Students).
Understandably, given that Toby Young is known to most people as the bloke who wrote a book about having no friends, or the bloke who was played by Simon Pegg in a movie about having no friends, or the bloke who wrote an article about how his stag-do proved once and for all that he had no friends, many were surprised that he was the government’s choice for the role.
On top of his prolific no-friends-having, his suitability has been challenged on the basis of, well, pretty much everything he’s ever said or written. In 2012 he called on the Government to repeal the Equalities Act in the Spectator, saying: “Schools have got to be ‘inclusive’ these days. That means wheelchair ramps, the complete works of Alice Walker in the school library (though no Mark Twain) and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from dyslexia to Münchausen syndrome by proxy.”
He added: “If Gove is serious about wanting to bring back O-levels, the Government will have to repeal the Equalities Act because any exam that isn’t ‘accessible’ to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be ‘elitist’ and therefore forbidden by Harman’s Law.”
In addition to those “robust” thoughts on the education system, he has also written about childhood more broadly. In the Australian periodical Quadrant he shared his thoughts on technology that would allow parents to select the potentially most intelligent embryo during IVF treatment. “My proposal is this: once this technology becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? … it could help to address the problem of flat-lining inter-generational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite.” Even the Evening Standard reckon he’s a bit much.
Twitter users have also dug up a number of dodgy tweets from the Toadmeister, including a lot of talk about cleavage – in particular one in which he celebrated the “huge knockers” of Danny Boyle’s wife while watching the Oscars (it was actually Boyle’s daughter). In another tweet, sent while he was watching Comic Relief in 2009, he tweeted: “What happened to Winkleman’s breasts Put on some weight girlie.” Adding a few hours later: “Alan Carr has bigger breasts than Claudia Winkelman” [sic].
Safe to say, Toby Young has not taken the criticisms well. As he sees it, the suggestion that a man with a history of endorsing misogyny and eugenics might not be well-placed to advising on the nation’s university system – let alone a man with no experience working in the university sector – is absolutely outrageous. And despite admitting that he has never held an academic post, he’s not going to stop until everybody agrees that he’s still the best man for the job.
Toby Young has spent today attempting to change the public's mind with increasingly manic results. He has published a lengthy Facebook status and a 36-tweet-long thread defending his right to the position. In both he argues that the only reason people don’t want him to have the job is because he’s a Tory, and that caricatures of him being a “heartless Tory toff” are unfair because he’s “a supporter of women’s rights and LGBT rights”, actually. Bet you weren’t expecting that, eh? He has also set about retweeting support wherever he can find it, most notably from Boris Johnson, a man well-versed in defending the outspoken and underqualified.
Many Twitter users have observed that Young has now begun to delete his most incriminating tweets, with as many as 50,000 going missing. All the while he continues to argue that “Some of those things [I’ve said in the past] have been sophomoric and silly – and I regret those – but some have been deliberately misinterpreted.”
Since then, his quest to clear his name has resulted in one of the boldest journalistic moves in living memory. The publication of, “In defence of Toby Young, by [yes, literally] Toby Young” – a blog on the Spectator which reiterates many of the points in his Twitter thread.
In it he laments: “The reason for all this confected outrage, of course, is that I’m a Conservative and an outspoken supporter of Brexit. Because I’ve said and done some pretty sophomoric things in the past, the government’s opponents think they can use me to embarrass Theresa May. I’ve become a political football. Happy New Year.”
So, to summarise: he has posted 36 tweets and deleted 50,000, written a Facebook diatribe and self-published an article in his own defence in the Spectator. On top of that he continues to retweet and shout out anyone who will support him. Any Tory brave enough to stick their head above the parapet and defend the new OfS board member’s copious use of the word “baps”. First he taught us how to lose friends, seems like it’s going to be jobs next.