Toby Young and rules applied to the many, but not the few

By Bernadette Meaden
January 9, 2018

Are the standards to which people are now held inversely proportional to the status and responsibility of the positions to which they are appointed?

Toby Young, a middle-aged man who has frequently made offensive and obscene remarks on social media, has shown scant regard for accuracy in his writing,(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23518)  and has expressed views on eugenics which the Conservative Chair of the Education Select Committee described as ‘incredibly dark and dangerous’, was considered suitable by the Prime Minister for a role in overseeing Universities.

Contrast this with the fate of Paris Brown, who at the age of 17 was appointed as a youth Police and Crime Commissioner on a salary of £15,000, but resigned in distress when the police began investigating tweets she had posted between the ages of 14 and 16, which they said could be considered racist and anti-gay.

When Ms Brown resigned, BBC News Home Affairs correspondent Danny Shaw wrote, ‘Critics will argue that if a PCC cannot carry out basic checks on an applicant's background before appointing them what chance have they got of scrutinising complex policing issues and making difficult budgetary decisions?’

But it seems we have now reached a position where the most privileged people in the country believe these basic checks are simply not relevant where their friends are concerned. We have reached a position where applicants for ‘ordinary’ jobs in the public or private sector are held to a much higher standard than those appointed to lucrative and powerful positions. Where those from privileged backgrounds can boast about behaviour which could see the life of a working class person ruined.

And, disturbingly, the people in the circles from which those appointees tend to be drawn clearly feel that this is only right and proper. Journalists, commentators and politicians have, even now, lamented the fact that Toby Young has resigned, with Isabel Oakeshott saying, "Political correctness is sapping public life of talented people. It has become utterly corrosive. @toadmeister [Toby Young] been v rude to me in the past, but it's time we all got over silly things said in the past. His resignation is a great loss."

In reality, there is a huge pool of talented decent people out here to draw upon, the vast majority of whom would never dream of posting obscene comments on social media, but they are completely outside the social orbit of the people who currently hold sway in government.

Announcing his resignation, Toby Young wrote, "some of the things I said before I got involved in education, when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong – and I unreservedly apologise." He then went on: "I would like to thank the Prime Minister for standing by me, and drawing a distinction between my earlier life and my subsequent record in education." But Mr Young’s writing on ‘progressive eugenics’, which the Chair of the Education Select Committee found to be ‘incredibly dark and dangerous’, was published in 2015.

This minor episode is not just about one person. It has gained perhaps disproportionate attention because it strikes a chord with people who feel it represents a wider problem. In certain circles, the rules simply don’t seem to apply – and the people in those circles don’t believe they should apply. If you belong in those circles, if you know the right people, you can get a lucrative and prestigious job despite behaviour which would disqualify you from many ‘ordinary’ occupations. It encapsulates what looks increasingly like decadence in public life. Like taxes, standards and rules are for the little people.

For a country suffering the privations of austerity, and for workers in schools, hospitals and other public services who are subject to constant scrutiny and accountability, this episode represents the rapidly widening gulf between an entitled governing elite and the hard-pressed governed.

Meanwhile, as Mary Bousted, the joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, has said, “Toby Young remains, however, Director of the New Schools Network – a charity which has received millions of pounds of Government funding. Now that knowledge of Young’s repugnant statements are public knowledge, questions must be raised about his continuing employment in this role.” 

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.