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Why Toby Young isn't even the real issue


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If January has been unkind to you so far, take a look at Theresa May. Her New Year Cabinet reshuffle descended into chaos within 24 hours, with two ministers refusing to leave their positions, two tendering their resignation, and the Conservative Party Twitter informing the world that the wrong minister had been appointed.

Coming off the back of losing three Cabinet ministers in the last four months of 2017, Mrs May must have been hoping that other areas of her government were going to help her out and live up to her "strong and stable" promise.

And then on Tuesday morning, Toby Young resigned from his position in the Office for Students after only eight days.

Copyright free - Toby Young

His appointment had been surrounded by criticism, with Young's back catalogue of sexist and disablist comments being unearthed, dusted off and paraded as evidence of his unsuitability to work for an organisation designed to uphold standards in universities.

All of which is only correct and proper. A man who, in his 40s, considered it appropriate to repeatedly Tweet about women's breasts and what he'd like to do them cannot be promoted to public office in 2017, post-Weinstein, Spacey et al. His opinions on SEND students, diversification in the literature available in school libraries and eugenics hardly bear repeating, but certainly would make his presiding over such issues as accessibility in HE institutions problematic.

A journalist by trade, Young's involvement in education has been controversial since he opened his first free school in 2011. Having publically criticised teachers in 2013 as complaining too much about their workload, he quit as CEO of the trust running the school in 2016 as he hadn't realised how difficult running a school would be. Here is a man who, whilst admitting his comments on teaching were ill-founded, has repeatedly demonstrated his unsuitability to make important decisions on education.

But he's not alone in that. Looking across government, even following the reshuffle, the policy-makers seem divorced from the sectors they represent. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary still hanging in there despite the ongoing NHS crisis, has a background in PPE and failed entrepreneurship. Recent appointment to Defence, Gavin Williamson, has had no experience in the military. And the last time there was a Secretary of State for Education with classroom experience was back in 2005 when Labour's Estelle Morris held the post.

Governments have become increasingly enamoured with employing big names to positions of responsibility, without really considering whether their credentials add up. In 2011, retail consultant Mary Portas was commissioned to write a report on Britain's high streets, whilst former Countdown presenter Carol Vorderman headed up a Tory education task-force in 2009 because, according to then-leader David Cameron, "Carol has got a passion for maths." Which is obviously the only qualification you need.

Copyright free - Carol Vorderman

Toby Young's appointment and resignation have simply brought to light the inherent problems with courting celebrity endorsements for governmental policies. Whilst Young's past comments go beyond what he has called "sophomoric and silly" - and, really, who has over 40,000 questionable Tweets to delete anyway? - the blame for his appointment lies far more with the government than Young himself. It is just another symptom of the problem of the UK government, privileging soundbites and media coverage over the establishment of solid sensible policy.

Ultimately, Toby Young should not have resigned from his post. He should never have been appointed in the first place. The past week's storm should be a sign to the powers-that-be that people will no longer stand for these ill-advised decisions and that Mrs. May should think very carefully over future endorsements.

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