Toby Young row: Boris Johnson defends uni regulator board member's 'caustic wit'

3 January 2018, 09:43

A row is threatening to overshadow the new universities watchdog after Boris Johnson was forced to defend one of its board members.

The Foreign Secretary said there had a "ridiculous outcry" over writer Toby Young's new role when historical online comments he wrote re-surfaced.

Mr Young was named as a board member on the new Office for Students (OfS) watchdog by Mr Johnson's brother, Universities Minister Jo Johnson, on Monday.

Among critics of the move was Tory peer Lord Cooper of Windrush, who claimed Mr Young had left a "trail of vile, leering nastiness" on Twitter.

He described it as the "latest example of the Tory values failure, which is killing them".

And Conservative MP Margot James said that while Mr Young was worthy of his appointment, he had "belittled" a history of "sexist comments" by using language to "dismiss" the "unacceptable" behaviour.

Mr Young's previous posts include a 2012 tweet when he wrote watching Prime Minister's Questions: "Serious cleavage behind Ed Miliband's head. Anyone know who it belongs to?"

A 2009 post also read: "What happened to Winkleman's breasts (sic) Put on some weight, girlie #comicrelief."

And in a column for the Spectator magazine Mr Johnson used to edit, Mr Young complained: "Inclusive. It's one of those ghastly, politically correct words that has survived the demise of New Labour. Schools have got to be 'inclusive' these days.

"That means wheelchair ramps, the complete works of Alice Walker in the school library (though no Mark Twain) and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from Dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy."

Mr Young later said he regretted the "sophomoric, politically incorrect remarks", adding: "I hope people will judge me on my actions."

But Mr Johnson backed his former colleague, who is also a free school pioneer, saying he would bring "independence, rigour and caustic wit" to the role.

"Ideal man for (the) job," he added.

The OfS was set up to hold universities to account on issues like vice-chancellor's pay and free speech on campus.

Education Secretary Justine Greening said it would make sure the "world-class reputation" of UK higher education was maintained.