Toby Young in 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Toby Young in 2011. Photo: Wikimedia

The views of Toby Young have no place in society, let alone education. Sack him now, argues Judy Cox

At the time of writing, over 150,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Toby Young be sacked from his new post with the new Office for Students in disgust at his sexism, homophobia and bigotry. Young, or the toadmeister as he calls himself on Twitter, embodies everything that is wrong with the right wing. He sneers at the ‘literati’, while never having had a job outside the media or academia. He preaches a return to a classic liberal tradition while pedalling vile and offensive views about those who are less advantaged and less powerful than himself. He sneers at criticism from the ‘politically correct brigade’ and the ‘twitchfolkers’, as if only the far-left object to racism, sexism or homophobia – or to joke about masturbating in front of TV images of starving children. ‘Repeal the equalities act’, he wrote in 2012, ‘because any exam that isn’t “accessible” to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be “elitist”.’ Young was actually running a chain of free schools in West London when that was written.

Name a yawningly obvious right wing cliché and Young has championed it. He takes his children hunting, he thinks benefits claimants are fraudsters, he thinks straight white men suffer from discrimination and he loves describing women’s breasts. Once again, a member of the privileged elite dares to say the unsayable, endlessly, in huge circulation newspapers, in magazines and on Twitter with only the government and their friends in high places to support them.

‘Our two schools,’ Young wrote with breathtaking hypocrisy in September 2013, ‘are firmly rooted in a Western liberal tradition that involves treating men and women as equals’. The burka and the mini skirt would be banned from Young’s free schools because, ‘we should draw the line at any form of dress that implies women should be taken less seriously then men’. But he doesn’t draw the line at describing his wife as having ‘Baywatch tits’. Young was a judge on a US reality tv show and tweeted that his co-host looked the way she did in one shot, ‘because I had my dick up her arse’.

During Prime Minister’s Questions Young tweeted: ’Serious cleavage behind Ed Miliband’s head. Anyone know who it belongs to?’ When questioned about the tweet later on Newsnight, he said, ‘I asked who a particular MP who one couldn’t see the head of, but was sitting behind Ed Miliband and wearing an extremely low-cut dress…I committed the sin of noticing it and apparently this constitutes harassment in some people’s views’. He tweeted that George Clooney was ‘as queer as a coot’.  

The repulsion at Young goes beyond his pathetic, last-century sexism to his class prejudice. One of many examples of this comes in a 2015 article in which Young explained his idea of ‘Progressive Eugenics’: ‘My proposal is this: once this technology [genetically engineered intelligence] becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? Provided there is sufficient take-up, it could help to address the problem of flat-lining intergenerational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite’. Young champions the idea of a knowledge based education system but his ideas require only prejudice.

Young has worked tirelessly to promote himself, armed only with a privileged upbringing and a very influential father. He pulled himself up by his father’s bootstraps. Lord Young of Dartington was praised for his famous 1958 work, The Rise of the Meritocracy, which decried entrenched social status based on birth rather than ability. Lord Young was critical of the way the new elite managed to establish themselves. However, when Young junior failed to get the grades he needed to go to Cambridge University Daddy made a call to the college authorities and he was in.

Toby Young now holds two positions of influence in the Tory Government’s drive to tear the education system apart and thus create profits for their cronies. The Office for Students aims to help the government’s drive to apply market forces to higher education in England. Young, alongside a former executive of HSBC bank and a managing director of Boots and the chief exec of a law firm, DLA Piper, will supposedly ensure that students receive value for the £50,000 they now pay for a degree. In practice, they will drive down student opposition to the destruction of higher education in the name of free speech on campus.

Young still has a role in creating free schools, Michael Gove’s fantasy of a means by which public sector money could be syphoned off to private companies all in the name of helping disadvantaged children. In May 2016 Young resigned as CEO of the West London Free School Trust after his school lost four head teachers in six years. He admitted that he had been ‘arrogant’ to presume schools could improve just by having high expectations and said he regrets criticising teachers, state schools and local education authorities’. Young had previously claimed that he had to hire proof readers to correct teachers’ poorly written reports.

Young remains head of New Schools Network, contracted by the Department of Education to promote the opening of free schools. ‘My own views are right-of-centre. But in my capacity as director of NSN, I will be non-partisan’, Young wrote, because ‘I want NSN to continue working with a broad range of groups and organisations’. You can see why he was worried about the NSN’s breadth of appeal. The New Schools Network was set up in 2009 by Rachel Wolf, ex-advisor to the then education secretary, Michael Gove, who went on to be David Cameron’s education advisor. She was succeeded by Natalie Evans, who became a Tory peer. She was succeeded by Nick Timothy, special advisor to Theresa May – before he was sacked following the general election. Tory governments have handed hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Network but, as a registered charity, its donors can remain anonymous and its finances obscure. The Network offers free schools discounts on services such as the Piota education app. Piota is a company run by James Dickson, who is an advisor to the Department of Education. The Network has a number of associates, including John Godfrey, who the NSN website describes thus: ‘John has built his career in corporate sales, business development, product and marketing leadership’. Perfect credentials for a job in education if you are a Tory ideologue.

Young whinges that his appointment to the Office of Students has been criticised simply because he is a Tory. He just wants to bring the breadth of experience of another rich, white man to the post. ‘More generally, I think it would be a shame if people who have said controversial things in the past, or who hold heterodox opinions, are prohibited from serving on public bodies. I’m a middle-aged white male so don’t tick any of the standard diversity boxes. But if public bodies are to make good decisions, they need to be intellectually diverse, as well as diverse in other respects’ he wrote last week, after hurriedly deleting some 50,000 intellectually diverse tweets. His appointment reveals the nasty reality behind Tory claims to champion social justice. He is unfit to hold any public office. Sack him now.

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.