Even after “unreservedly” apologising for offensive tweets and writings that he called “ill-judged and just plain wrong”, and stepping down from his university watchdog role, people are still lining up to defend Toby Young.
Young was forced to stand down from the Office for Students (OfS) amid growing outrage over his history of sexist and other offensive remarks from his days as a journalist.
After Boris Johnson rushed to tweet support for the free schools campaigner last week, brother Jo Johnson, who was about to be moved from his role as universities minister, derided the “one-sided caricature from [Young’s] armchair critics.”
Hours later Johnson was reshuffled out of the department for education to become minister of state for transport and minister for London.
New Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis also moved to defend Young, telling the Today programme that his resignation “shouldn’t distract from the great work Toby has done in improving school standards, the work he’s done in free schools and the logic and his passion that led to his appointments in the first place”.
Lewis said Young’s comments were “inappropriate” but in a “different time, in a different role”.
Brendan O’Neill wrote for libertarian online magazine Spiked Online that criticism of Young “amounted to agitating for the government to expel from its ranks a man who committed the crime of telling off-colour, offensive jokes”.
Spectator editor Fraser Nelson tweeted an article he had written before Young’s resignation, tweeting: “People should be judged on what they do with their lives, not the worst of their bad jokes.”
Young’s departure and apology have also made some past full-throated defences of him look awkward.
None has aged worse than Boris Johnson’s, who last week called the controversy around Young “ridiculous” and said he would be the “ideal man for the job”.
Young used to write for The Spectator when Johnson was editor.
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said after Young’s resignation: “Getting a role in public office cannot be based solely on being a friend of Boris Johnson”.
The prime minister offered a defence of Young on Sunday, which one close observer of Westminster said ultimately made things worse for her.
May told Andrew Marr: “Toby Young has done exceedingly good work in relation to free schools. And that’s what led to him being appointed to the office for students.
“When he was appointed I was not aware of these comments that he had made.”
Joey Jones, a former journalist turned political operative, said the resignation was more damaging to the prime minister because she had defended him, adding it could have escaped wider public attention if she had not mentioned it.
“The writing was on the wall. Theresa May actually pinned her colours to the Toby Young mast. It’s more damaging than it otherwise would have been,” Jones told Today programme on Tuesday.
Defending himself last week, Young wrote of the “witchfinder generals” opposing him and said arguments against him joining the OfS were “feeble” and that he was facing “confected outrage” from those who resented him as a Brexit-backing Conservative.
Young seemingly didn’t think the outrage wasn’t confected on Tuesday, when he wrote in his resignation statement: “Some of the things I said... when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong – and I unreservedly apologise.”