Toby Young in 2007. Photo: Wikimedia Toby Young in 2007. Photo: Wikimedia

The allegations of sexism and homophobia are piling up, and his time is running out

A new day, a new revelation about Toby Young. Saturday’s Evening Standard revealed that in 2001 Young described himself as a ‘porn addict’. Writing in The Spectator magazine, he claimed that the female lead in the 1972 porn movie Deep Throat could not have been raped as she claimed because, ‘As someone who’s seen Deep Throat several times, I can report that it certainly doesn’t seem as though Marchiano-or Linda Lovelace, to use her nom de porn- is doing anything against her will’. Even more worrying is a theatre review written by Young in which he enthused about the naked breasts of the female actors: ‘They’re good breasts, too, belonging to women who don’t look a day over 18’, thus sexualising teenage girls. In 2011, the year in which he set up his free school, Young attacked a Hackney school for celebrating LGBT week: ‘The very idea that a group of 12-year-old schoolchildren would be dragooned into “creating banners and other materials” to promote LGBT week is preposterous’. Young routinely describes women’s breasts as ‘tits’, ‘knockers’ and ‘baps’. He calls people ‘poofters’ and ‘hard-core dykes’. Why is this Trump-with-keyboard figure let anywhere near a school, never mind still running a government-funded charity, the New Schools Network, and the Office for Students?

Young has his high-profile supporters in May’s government which is indicative of how morally bankrupt and corrupt key members at the heart of May’s government are. Ministers are either oblivious to or prepared to tolerate any expression appalling bigotry from those who they think can help them to drive through their agenda. One supporter is foreign secretary Boris Johnson, his editor at the Spectator, who condemned the ‘ridiculous outcry’ over Young’s appointment, praised his ‘caustic wit’ and called him the ‘ideal man for the job’. A website called Business Insider has been looking through Johnson’s archives. In 1996, Johnson reported from Labour Conference: ‘The “Tottymeter” has gone off as a young woman delegate mounts the rostrum’. In 1998, Johnson wrote that the resignation of Peter Mandelson would cause ‘tank-topped bumboys’ to ‘blub’. In a GQ column, Johnson wrote, ‘On driving a Ferrari F340, ‘it was as though the whole county of Hampshire was lying back and opening her well-bred legs to be ravished by the Italian stallion’. While campaigning in the 2005 general election, Johnson joked with voters, ‘Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts’. It must have slipped his mind that women were given the vote in 1918.

Toby Young was appointed to the Office for Students by Jo Johnson, Boris’s younger brother – Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon Club, investment banker, Financial Times journalist and Head of No10 Policy Unit under Cameron. Jo Johnson argued that, ‘Lamentable teaching’ was damaging higher education and that students should live more ‘frugally’ if they were struggling financially, not something he has ever had to do, needless to say. The Office for Students has no representatives of the National Union of students, even though president and vice president both applied. The creation of the Office for Students is a final act in government transformation of further education into a commodity to be sold a university marketplace, in which prestigious institutions cater for the rich while others go to the wall. It exists to create the impression that students’ interests are being defended and that they will get value for the huge fees the Tories themselves have introduced, while actually opening the university sector up to increased competition. Jo Johnson has been Universities Minister for the last seven years, during which time tuition fees have trebled, maintenance bursaries have gone and the cost of living has soared. In the summer of 2016 it was reported by the percentage of young, disadvantaged students attending university ash fallen for the first time since records began’ (Independent 3 August, 2016).

‘Having pushed through its neoliberal agenda for universities, in the teeth of opposition from academics and students alike, the government is now embarking on the phase of consolidation and image management, one element of which if the papering over the cracks.’ (‘Bigger problems than Toby Young’, Lorna Finlayson, London Review of Books, January 2017). Toby Young has himself referred to the Office for Students role in enforcing free speech on campuses, pointing out the ‘irony’ that the defender of free speech should himself be criticised for his un-PC comments. We can already see the kind of offensive and bigoted speech that will be freed up by Young and his friends.

Young was also defended by Michael Gove who responded to Boris Johnson’s support for Young: ‘Quite right too – how many of Toby Young’s critics have worked day and night to provide great state schools for children of every background?’ Tens of thousands teachers for starters. Michael Gove gifted the New Schools Network £500,00 in 2010, at the height of Tory austerity, after a ‘free tender’ process in which it was the only applicant. The NSN has been warned twice about the legal requirement for charities to remain independent of political parties after it published article supporting the Conservative Party on its website. Young took over in January 2017 just as the whole free school project was beginning to unravel. A Telegraph article on a National Audit Office report in February last year described how, ‘Free schools are being built in areas where they are not needed, coasting billions of pounds, while existing schools are falling into disrepair’. In 2016 86% of local authority run schools were rated as good or outstanding, compared to 79% of free schools (‘Local authority schools outperform academies’, Sally Weale, Guardian, 25th April 2016). Young’s West London free school was judged to be ‘good’ by Ofsted – just like the vast majority of local authority schools. In December 2016, the minutes of Young’s West London Free School Academy Trust, running three primaries and a secondary, revealed that 60% of parents at the secondary school were paying £35.00 a month for extra-curricular activities. Last summer, the words ‘free school’ were dropped from the Trust’s name – it is now known as the Knowledge Schools Trust (Schools Week, 2nd August 2017).

Toby Young is an over-promoted self-publicist who successfully manipulated his outrageous right-wing image to rise to further prominence within May’s government. Neither he nor they expected the level of revulsion prompted by revelations of his bigotry, as some 200,000 people sign the petition calling for him to be sacked in a few days. Young cannot defend the interests of young women or gay men at school or university, nor did anyone expect him to. He should be sacked from his position as head of the New Schools Network and the Office for Students. I hope students campaign vigorously against Young and the government that appointed him. 

Judy Cox

Judy Cox is a lifelong socialist writer and speaker. Now a teacher in East London, Judy was on the editorial board of International Socialism and has written amongst other things on Marx’s theory of alienation, Rosa Luxemburg’s economic theory, William Blake and Robin Hood.