Tribalism in political appointments

So Toby Young was eventually hounded into resigning from the board of the Office for Students. I confess, I was one of those who hounded him. I thought, and still think, that his appointment was wholly inappropriate.

I was not sorry to see Jo Johnson subsequently moved out of the Department for Education, either, though personally I would have sacked him. Johnson, who was instrumental in bringing about Young's appointment, defended it to the House of Commons on the extraordinary grounds that Young was on a "developmental journey". It's absolutely fine for Young to go on a developmental journey, of course, but not paid for by my taxes or affecting the lives of my children (my daughter is currently a university student).

But there is a much bigger issue here. Why was Young ever appointed in the first place? He admitted to me on Twitter that he did not have the academic experience the Department of Education said he did, but then said that it did not matter because of his work with free schools and as director of the New Schools Network, a charity funded by the Department of Education that promotes "free schools" (yes, I know, what does the DoE think it is doing, funding an organisation that sets out to undermine local authorities?). He said this gave him "some experience" of innovation in the educational sector.

Ok, so let's look at that experience. Young has been director of the New Schools Network for only a year. However, his Free Schools experience is more extensive. He co-founded the West Kensington Free School so that his own kids didn't have to go to the local comprehensive. Currently, the West Kensington Free School is on its fourth head in five years, but its Ofsted rating is "good". The trust that runs it also runs three primary schools in the Kensington area, all of which are successful. So far, so good.

But is this really that great? Free schools, academies and educational trusts were becoming reality long before Toby Young got involved. Where I live, education is dominated by academies and educational trusts, many of which are larger, longer established and doing better than Toby Young's enterprise in West Kensington. For example, Rochester Grammar (Ofsted rating "outstanding") is the lead school in the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, which currently runs seven primary schools and four secondary schools in Medway and Portsmouth. What does Toby Young bring to the New Schools Network, or to the OfS board for that matter, that the CEO of such a Trust would not?

A clue to what exactly Toby Young brings to the party is in this angry article that he posted on The Spectator shortly before his resignation. The last paragraph reads thus:
The reason for all this confected outrage, of course, is that I’m a Conservative and an outspoken supporter of Brexit. Because I’ve said and done some pretty sophomoric things in the past, the government’s opponents think they can use me to embarrass Theresa May. I’ve become a political football.
My personal opposition to his appointment had nothing whatsoever to do with his political views. I objected to his lack of appropriate experience, his support for eugenics, his apparent dislike of diversity in education, and the obnoxious misogyny of his tweets and articles. His supporters said that his crudely misogynistic tweets and articles were from some years ago, and he had now changed his views: but his repellent writing on eugenics and disability is far more recent. And anyway, it is hard to see why tweets and articles from some years ago should be ignored when experience he claims from some years ago apparently justifies his appointment.

I did, however, mention his political views, not because I objected to them but because they appeared to be the principal reason for his appointment. I am now more certain than ever that he was appointed not because he has experience and expertise to bring to the OfS, but because he moves in the right political circles. It was his connections, not his abilities, that got him the job.

Why am I certain of this? Firstly, because it is now abundantly clear that he was appointed despite there being candidates with substantially more experience, more expertise and better behaviour. And secondly, because in the furore around his appointment, he listed his supporters. Here they are:

Boris Johnson (journalist turned Conservative MP, Brexiter, brother of Jo Johnson, knew Young at university)
Kemi Badenoch (Conservative MP, formerly a director of The Spectator, Brexiter)
Michael Gove (journalist turned Conservative MP, Brexiter, married to Sarah Vine)
Priti Patel (career politician, Conservative MP, Brexiter)
Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor of the private university where Young is a visiting fellow)
Jenni Russell (journalist, Times columnist)
Fraser Nelson (editor of right-wing political magazine The Spectator, Brexiter)
Merryn Somerset Webb (editor of Moneyweek, Brexiter)
Nick Boles (Conservative MP, Remainer)
Laura McInerney (education writer)
Phillip Blond (director of ResPublica think tank)
Maria Caulfield (Conservative MP, Brexiter)
Jesse Norman (Conservative MP)
James Kirkup (journalist turned director of the Social Market Foundation)
Sarah Vine (Daily Mail journalist, also writes for The Spectator. Married to Michael Gove)
Guido Fawkes (right-wing contrarian blogger)
Mary Curnock Cook (former CEO of UCAS)
Iain Martin (right-wing journalist, Brexiter, editor of Reaction)
Claire Lehmann (editor of Quillette, which published Young's piece taken down by Teach First)
Piers Morgan (nuff said)
Stephen Daisley (right-wing journalist and broadcaster, left STV amid accusations that SNP MPs tried to "gag" him)
Mark Lehain (former head of Bedford Free School, now director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, a campaign group for free schools)
James Croft
Rob Colville (journalist, director of right-wing CPS think tank, editor-in-chief of online magazine CapX)
Simon Dudley (Conservative, Leader of Windsor council, controversially called for homeless in Windsor to be locked  up for the royal wedding in 2018)
Jonathan Simons (Director of Policy and Advocacy, Varkey Foundation; formerly head of the Education Unit at the right wing thinktank Policy Exchange)
Adrian Hilton (writer and speaker, council member of the right-wing Freedom Association, Brexiter),
Adam Perkins (author of "The Welfare Trait" which argues that social welfare damages children)
Dennis Sewell (journalist, contributing editor to The Spectator)
Charlotte Gill (journalist, contributing editor to the Daily Mail)
James Delingpole (Breitbart London executive editor, right-wing writer, Brexiter)
Adrian Wooldridge (writes the Bagehot column for The Economist)
Kirstie Allsopp (broadcaster, Brexiter)
Ryan Bourne (Cato Institute, formerly Institute for Economic Affairs, right-wing, Brexiter)
Julia Hartley-Brewer (journalist, Brexiter, right-wing)
Jamie Martin
Nick Timothy (former adviser to Theresa May)

Now, some of these people undoubtedly supported Young for wholly disinterested reasons. But the dominance of right-wingers - journalists, policy advisers, politicians - in this list is extraordinary. It is as if the political right rallied round to defend one of "their own". Never mind about his inexperience and offensiveness: he was "one of them", and therefore by definition the right person for the job.

If so, then Young is absolutely right that he was attacked because he is a Tory and a Brexiter. But that is because being a Tory and a Brexiter got him the job. He was there not to bring experience and expertise, but to promote the policies of the right-wing tribe of which he is part. He was, in short, a political plant.

Inevitably, now that they know the real reason for Young's appointment, the Left is out for blood. Not that they are admitting that they don't like political appointments unless they are from their own side, of course. Dear me, no. And to be fair, Young has given them plenty of ammunition. They don't need to reveal their real agenda. Here is Polly Toynbee, in the Guardian, casting doubt on his suitability for any position in education:
...How can someone who toys with eugenics expect to hold a post in education, where all classes and races should be treated equally? The revelation by the London Student newspaper that only last May he attended a secretive eugenics conference – “the London conference on intelligence” at UCL – raises questions about his suitability. And that’s leaving aside the porn, malice and misogyny
And here is Tim Fenton alleging that the real reason why Young has resigned not only from the OfS but also, now, from his position as Fulbright Commissioner for Harvard, is the growing evidence that Young's interest in eugenics is anything but benign:
His presence at the London Conference on Intelligence last year, alongside white supremacists and the occasional paedophile, was not the only eugenics bash he had attended recently - there had been another in Montreal.
Fenton may well be right, but that doesn't mean the Left's sudden interest in dislodging Young from his position at the New Schools Network has anything to do with his views on eugenics.

To me, this looks much more like a tribal fight. The right-wing "chumocracy" planted their own man in an educational establishment that they view as historically biased to the left. It is hard not to see this as a deliberate attempt to move policy to the right, especially as they rallied round to defend Young when his serious weaknesses were exposed, and cried "foul" when he was forced to resign. This is why I view Young's appointment as entirely political. He is a puppet of the Right, a pawn in their game.

But the Left is equally deceitful, claiming that this is about Young's unacceptable views on eugenics. The fact is that they were out to dislodge him long before these were exposed. They just didn't have enough ammunition to get rid of him - after all, being a right-wing Tory and a Brexiter is hardly justification for completely removing him from the educational establishment. Now they do.

As it happens, I genuinely believe Young's views, and his habit of dissembling - and even, at times, lying - when challenged about his views, make him wholly unsuitable for any position in education. I do think his directorship of the New Schools Network should be brought to an end, and he should never again hold a publicly-funded educational post. But I am concerned about reinforcing political tribalism. The Right has already used the Left's campaign against Toby Young as evidence that the Left is rallying round to protect their hegemony in the educational establishment. Unless the call to remove Toby Young from his remaining publicly funded educational position spans the political divide, removing him could prove extremely difficult and highly divisive.

Removing Toby Young from the New Schools Network directorship must be done in such a way as to leave no shadow of doubt about the reasons why he can no longer be allowed to hold such positions. It is emphatically not because he is Tory and a Brexiter.  It is because his language is offensive, his views are repellent and his behaviour dishonest. And above all, because a man whose career has always been defined by his political connections is now associating with white supremacists, racists and Nazis at a time when right-wing nationalism is reawakening all over the developed world.

Related reading:

Toby Young's repugnant eugenics
Toby Young - the real reason why he went - Zelo Street

Image of Toby Young with Boris Johnson is courtesy of Getty Images. 


  1. Jerred Seisyll, your comments have been deleted because once again, you have indulged in ad hominem attacks, both on me and on others. I am happy to post comments here that discuss the topic of the post. I will not post comments that include personal attacks on me or anyone else.

    Matthew, my apologies, but when I deleted Jerred's first comment, your reply to it was automatically deleted. Would you please re-post your comment?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Toby Young's Spectator post doesn't debunk anything I have written here. You appear to have missed the entire point of my post, which is that he is a political appointee and the Left's attacks on him are a political witch hunt.

      There are in my opinion multiple reasons why Toby Young should not hold publicly-funded posts in education. You may disagree with my opinion, but that does not entitle you to make wild allegations about my political beliefs. I am politically neutral.

      I deleted your comment because it contained ad hominem attacks on me and others, which violate the comments policy of this blog. The comments policy is clearly stated on the About This Blog page, and I have several times reminded you of it already. If you continue to violate the comments policy, you will be banned from the site.

    2. Jerred Seisyll, once again I have had to delete your comment because it attacks me instead of discussing the post. The comments policy of this blog is as follows:

      - please refrain from personal attacks on me or other commenters
      - please stick to the topic of the post

      This is your final warning. If you post any more ad hominem attacks on me or anyone else, you will be permanently banned from commenting on this site.

  3. Interesting, but I wonder why societies periodically become interested in eugenics and similar ideas. I suspect economic pressure plays a part, 'they' are not pulling their weight or 'they' are taking our jobs when the real problem is that the economic tide is turning and bigger forces are at work. In short, there are fewer 'good' jobs around and there will gradually be even fewer good jobs. This seems to be the underlying logic of Brexit, a low wage, low efficiency society with the cream of the private schools feeding into the best jobs.

    Even if eugenics worked we would have to make dramatic changes to land use, housing policy and infrastructure in order to reap any benefit. A low wage, low efficiency society post Brexit avoids any need for such disturbing change. Indeed if we were prepared to make those same dramatic changes we probably would have no need for eugenics at all. But concreting over Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey would disturb too many interests.

    Then an unspoken bedfellow of eugenics is immigration, too many 'other' coming to live here. But we could easily solve that problem, build car factories and Iphone factories in Africa and in those countries Mr Trump has been so rude about. But we need those car factories to supply our own jobs and factories of any kind come only in giga size these days. So two or three giga factories could supply the entire world's requirement for this or that product - not too good if you live far from the factory.

    Then we westerners are too grand to mess with factories, we do services. Trouble is that services is mostly low paid take it or leave it sort of work, not socially nourishing. To move up the scale we would need more social as well as traditional education. Nice polite well spoken pupils with a smattering of Hegel, Da Vinci, art appreciation and music as well as tensor calculus. Add to this civilised housing conditions and transport and we move back into dramatic change and concrete once again. Brexit avoids all that.

    The bottom line is that anyone with any sense will want to max out the chances of their kids getting a good job. That means grammar schools however much you squirm at the idea and Eton if you can afford it. Everyone loves the education schtick but the truth is we don't want everyone to get maxed out on education - it makes political life too awkward and makes life hard for our own kids. Makes good copy for the DT and DM though even though it is misleading.
    Pull up the ladder Jack, I'm all right is the reality.

    The big economic tides are still turning and I suspect that as in battles God (aka economic success) will be on the side of the big batallions, I see no re-run of the David/Goliath story.

    BTW, I noticed this line in your Repugnant Eugenics article. "Genetics being what it is, of course, from time to time two dim people will produce a genius, and two intelligent people will produce a dimwit. But the chances of this become smaller and smaller the more rigidly stratified society becomes and the more assortative mating becomes the norm."

    Did you really mean ' and the (more) less assortative mating becomes the norm. For it seems to me we have less assortative mating nowadays than say 50 years ago.

  4. "Currently, the West Kensington Free School is on its fourth head in five years, but its Ofsted rating is "good". The trust that runs it also runs three primary schools in the Kensington area, all of which are successful. So far, so good."

    The problems lie in the details. The intake of pupils also seems to be skewed towards the more academically able (even if there are a number from more disadvantaged backgrounds), and the schools themselves receive more funding per pupil than is the case for similar government run schools in the area. At which point the Ofsted rating starts to look rather less impressive when used as evidence for Young's competency in running schools.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Intellectual fashions do change. I recall Eugenics being the respectable academic's claim to political correctness. Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, Director of the LSE notably and one of his governors, a GB Shaw, a founder of the place. Alas for them and their theories science moved on as did mathematical economics and analytical philosophy and the study of economic and social history. Lord Beveridge was one person responsible for change, whether he intended the change that happened is another matter. One thing that is being lost at present is the huge impact of our chemistry on the planet and its people in recent decades. The future may lie with those who avoid the brain fog if any can.


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