After serious pressure by the Labour Party, Toby Young finally did the right thing and resigned this week from his position at the Office for Students, a position he should never have been given.
Toby Young’s appalling tweets, articles and attitude shocked me. Violent, sexist and homophobic language has no place in our society. His comments on those with disabilities were extremely offensive and we all have a duty to condemn this language in the strongest possible terms.
Young’s appointment was wrong from the start. His views made him completely unfit to hold public office. The fact that just over a year ago someone was brave enough to place a sexual harassment policy on his desk underlying his unacceptable behaviour, only for Toby to respond by hiring a stripper to the workplace on a Bring Your Daughter to Work Day speaks volumes.
My joint letter along with Angela Rayner to the Prime Minister last week highlighted serious concerns. Labour’s call to reverse the appointment was also backed by the public – over 220,000 people at the time of writing signed a petition calling on him to be sacked.
Yet the Government buried their heads in the sand, refusing to accept that the appointment was a grave mistake despite the overwhelming opposition. They even ignored some in their own party who could not defend this appointment.
What is most worrying about the Government’s response is the way in which they flagrantly disregarded legitimate concerns. It was like ‘we are the establishment and we don’t care what you say’. A leaked briefing showed the Government calling on their backbenchers to deflect criticism. If we are to stamp out sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace we must all call it out when we see it.
Jo Johnson, at the time Universities Minister, labelled opponents as ‘armchair critics’. And his brother, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, called it a “ridiculous outcry” and lauded Toby Young’s so-called “caustic wit” when Young was appointed.
It is good news that Toby Young has now resigned but the Government still has serious questions to answer. This is essential in order to change attitudes and build fairness into the system.
Theresa May said herself she was not impressed by Young’s language yet she was too weak to deal with it
On process, we need to know if the Nolan Principles – as outlined in the application – were applied. We also must know exactly who the independent assessor was, and why the Department for Education chose to exaggerate Toby Young’s qualifications.
On suitability, we need to know if the Department for Education’s guidelines on the seven principles of public life were upheld, as Young’s history of misogyny and insulting language appears to make a mockery of these guidelines.
And finally the Government must address merit. The Prime Minister said that people would be promoted on the basis of merit, not privilege. Yet the fact Young was appointed screams privilege and establishment.
I do not know whether this was a case of giving a job to one of the boys and a mate of the Johnson’s. But what we do know for sure is that this appointment signifies a government which is hopelessly out of touch.
The Government must now face the music and answer for this failure. It is unfathomable that key people in the Government were seemingly unaware of Toby Young’s torrid history and is a damning reflection on their competence.
Theresa May said herself she was not impressed by Young’s language yet she was too weak to deal with it. She in fact endorsed Toby Young, which seriously calls into question her judgment.
This disastrous affair, in addition to the calamitous cabinet reshuffle, adds up to yet another chaotic week for the Government and just goes to prove that Theresa May is Prime Minister in name only. Well, if Theresa May cannot lead, then she must leave.
Dawn Butler is the shadow women and equalities secretary and Labour MP for Brent Central