Toby Young: who is regulating our regulators?

When I began writing this piece, Toby Young was still in his position as a non- executive member of the board for the new Office for Students, a ‘body which is intended to ensure institutions in higher education are accountable’. However, despite the real public outcry since his appointment was announced, Theresa May had been steadfast in her refusal to fire him.

When a new cache of deeply inappropriate tweets came to light, Mrs May should have shown leadership by sacking the newly elected so called ‘Student Tsar’ but refused to do so because he “has done some exceedingly good work in relation to Free schools”.

We are always trying to show the next generation the right path, often by modelling the type of behaviour we want to see or calling out certain behaviours that are unacceptable. The lack of decisive action by the government resulted in diluting the severity of Young’s comments, sending the message to young and old alike that these types of comments are acceptable and merely ‘cheeky banter’. They were not. They were further examples of an endemic culture in which women are routinely objectified and other disadvantaged groups lampooned and ridiculed.  This is why May’s decision to give Young yet another chance on Sunday was wrong.

Going over some of Young’s tweets, you could be mistaken in thinking that they were written by a randy teenager with all the manners and social etiquette of someone who binge watches the Inbetweeners and is desperate to lose his virginity. Sadly, for Young and those who appointed him, he is a 54 year old grown man with an incredibly important position in the public eye who has shown that he possesses neither the emotional maturity or the intelligence that is required of someone whose main responsibility would have been to ensure our student population is kept safe. How could he have held to account our further educational institutions when he himself wasn’t even being held to account?

Young’s tweets clearly demonstrated his frankly appalling views on women, (especially their breasts), homosexuals, starving children and the term ‘inclusivity’ despite the deleting spree Young had clearly been on.

Even members of her own party urged May to remove Young; Nicky Morgan MP (the former Secretary of Education and Minister for Women and Equalities) stated many people “will find it hard to understand” how Young got the job while Shadow Health Secretary Jonathon Ashworth MP was more forthcoming: “these tweets are disgusting, offensive, sexist. She (May) should show some leadership, she should get rid of him”.

However, Young is not without supporters; academic Phillip Blond described Young’s tweets as ‘smutty’ and urged us to ‘forgive him’. Young tweeting that he had his ‘dick up (the) arse’ of a pregnant woman is not merely smutty but downright offensive, and promotes the culture of glorifying unwanted sexual advances and rape that we, as campaigners, are trying to highlight and eradicate.

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson has also waded in to support his long term friend, displaying his famous tact and understanding of the public mood: ‘Ridiculous outcry over Toby Young. He will bring independence, rigour and caustic wit. Ideal man for the job’.

Bad news headlines seems to follow Mr Young where he goes, from hacking into the computer systems at The Times as a news trainee and circulating sensitive materials to disclosing his seedy past as a drug user and pusher at the exclusive Groucho Club (conduct that resulted in him getting fired and expelled respectively).

Ever since his appointment had been announced, further details kept emerging, each more sordid and unpalatable than the last. Young’s own take was interesting: 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.”

If ‘delusional denial’ was a physical place, Young was happily sitting with his shoes kicked off, pipe in hand, right at home.

Those whom we elect to shine a spotlight on any wrongdoing in our educational institutions, as well as the processes used to elect them, need to be held to a higher degree of accountability and transparency themselves. Otherwise, the system will collapse under the sheer hypocrisy. Where is the transparency or accountability in all of this?

The real lessons we have learnt from this whole furore is that it was the public that finally held Young to account when our current leadership clearly failed to do so. A recent petition to remove Young from his position gathered over 220,000 signatures in just 7 days. Questions also need to be asked of the process used to appoint Young to ensure there is not a repeat of the same debacle again.

With news of his resignation now trending, Young will probably come to realise that ‘joking’ about masturbating over images of starving children, the size of women’s breasts and naming #grandmasI’dliketoshag is no laughing matter after all.

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