You’ve probably read about my colleague Toby Young. Last week, Toby decided to resign from the board of a new quango, the Office for Students (OfS), after a huge and splenetic media campaign against him. Toby had made a number of rude remarks on Twitter and, in his two decades as a journalist provocateur, written some controversial pieces. His politics, moreover, are right-of-centre.
For these sins, he was front-page news for more than a week. A petition demanding his removal from the OfS garnered more than 200,000 signatures. He was vilified; his reputation trashed. Toby hoped that by standing down from this minor role on a fairly insignificant public body, the vitriol against him would calm down. He was wrong.
Because Toby is a columnist for the Spectator, the magazine I work for, I woke up on the morning of his resignation to some television requests for me to speak about him. “Assuming you’re going to be defending him!” texted Hannah, a producer for the BBC’s Daily Politics show. “No, I thought I’d kick him while he’s down,” I replied, trying to be funny. After a pause, I texted again: “Joke”. “Haha,” replied Hannah, generously, “Dawn is clearly going to, so we need someone onside.”
Dawn turned out to be Dawn Butler, the Labour MP and shadow minister for equalities (whatever they are). She is a woman in her late 40s who makes up in self-righteousness for what she lacks in subtlety. Our debate did not go well – for me at least. I rather botched an answer about Toby’s views on “progressive eugenics” because, while I don’t think he is a Nazi, I do find his writings on that subject barmy.
More than that, though, I was and still am stunned by the level of hostility that Toby, a likeable guy, has generated. Given the anger, you could be forgiven for thinking that an out-and-proud white supremacist and wife-beater had been appointed minister for health.
Dawn was not content that Toby should merely have resigned. He should have been sacked, she thought. She clearly considered me to be, like Toby, another racist, homophobic, misogynist Tory.
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