Campaigners have welcomed the decision of a controversial right-wing writer and free schools advocate to resign from the board of the government’s new higher education watchdog, and say he should never have been appointed.
Toby Young’s resignation came just hours after disabled Tory MP Robert Halfon called on his own government to reverse its decision to appoint the journalist to the board of the Office for Students.
There was shock and anger among many disabled people last week when Toby Young was appointed to the board, despite writing articles that included “insulting” and “extremist” comments about inclusive education and eugenics.
There had also been outrage at years of misogynist and homophobic remarks Young had made on social media, which he has now deleted from his Twitter account.
Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said ALLFIE welcomed Young’s resignation.
But she said he should “never have been appointed in the first place, never mind being forced to resign, bowing to public pressure”.
She said: “Toby Young, who is against the inclusion of disabled pupils in mainstream education, should never have been appointed in the first place, especially when his views are incompatible with the government’s obligations to promote disabled people’s human rights to inclusive education under article 24 [on inclusive education] of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
Halfon, a former education minister who now chairs the education select committee, had told fellow MPs on Monday of the “quite dark articles” in which Young had supported “progressive eugenics” and written about disabled people and working-class students*.
Halfon said: “I find this incredibly dark and very dangerous stuff, and I suggest that [Jo Johnson, the universities minister] looks again at this appointment because I do not think it will give students confidence.”
Hours later, Young published an article on the website of the right-wing magazine, The Spectator, in which he said his appointment had become a “distraction” from the “vital work” of the OfS and that he was standing down from its board.
He insisted that he was “a passionate supporter of inclusion and helping the most disadvantaged”, but added that “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”.
But the resignation came after the prime minister, Theresa May, and the universities minister, Jo Johnson, had both defended his appointment and insisted that he should not be sacked.
Johnson suggested to MPs that he had not seen the article on progressive eugenics, telling Halfon that he would “look carefully” at the article, but insisting that Young had “expressed his regret” and had “apologised unreservedly for comments that have been made in some cases going back to the 1980s”.
He said that neither he nor the Department for Education were aware of the many offensive messages Young had posted on Twitter until after he had been appointed.
Halfon had been one of two Tory select committee chairs who criticised the appointment.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health committee, told MPs on Monday that Young’s comments “do cross a line and are indicative of an underlying character”.
Maria Eagle, a former Labour minister for disabled people, said it was “quite right” that he had resigned.
She had told MPs before his resignation: “As a former minister for disabled people, I am appalled by some of his recently expressed views about the place of disabled people in our society.
“The minister has said that many of Mr Young’s misogynistic tweets were from many years ago, but his views about disabled people are very recent indeed.
“How can the minister appoint somebody who thinks so little of the contribution of disabled people to our society to such an important position? Does he not agree that it is indefensible?”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said: “We can confirm that Toby Young has decided to resign from the board of the Office for Students.
“Everyone appointed to the board brings valuable experience which will be vital to the role of the new higher education regulator and we remain confident it will deliver for students.”
But DfE has refused to comment on whether Johnson had now read the eugenics article, as the universities minister has now been appointed to a post in the Department for Transport as part of this week’s ministerial reshuffle.
*Five years ago, in an article for The Spectator about plans to bring back O-levels, Young wrote of how “inclusive” was a “ghastly, politically correct” word, which meant that schools had to have “wheelchair ramps… and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from Dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy”.
He added: “If [Michael] Gove is serious about wanting to bring back O-levels the government will have to repeal the Equality Act because any exam that isn’t ‘accessible’ to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be ‘elitist’ and therefore forbidden by Harman’s Law.”
He later added a footnote that claimed he was not opposed to including disabled people in mainstream education and suggested that critics had misunderstood him.
He has also written, in another article, published in 2015, of how he is in favour of “progressive eugenics”, arguing that “it is not through changing the culture that we will be able to solve the chronic social problems besetting the advanced societies of the West, but through changing people’s genes”.
He adds: “What I’m proposing is a form of eugenics that would discriminate in favour of the disadvantaged.
“I’m not suggesting we improve the genetic stock of an entire race, just the least well off.
“This is a kind of eugenics that should appeal to liberals – progressive eugenics.”
Picture: Toby Young being interviewed on Channel 4 News in 2014