The Existence of Toby Young

Boris Johnson chats with Toby Young and Headteacher Thomas Packer, September 2011.

I often wonder if Toby Young really exists. I mean Young could be real, or he could just be a piece of advanced satire. It’s hard to say these days. It may be plausible that this man does exist, but somehow it’s hard to believe he does.

Sometimes I wonder if Toby Young could be a false flag operation. I imagine the people behind it would be bored cultural Marxists looking to undermine the right from within (you read it here first, Breitbart). Now I can hear you already saying: “Of course, he’s real! I’ve seen him on telly?!” Well, maybe so. Maybe you saw a ham actor giving the best performance of his life. After all, we all want our 15 minutes.

So I find myself contemplating this question after it was announced that Toby Young will be heading the Office for Students. This new body was put together after universities minister Jo Johnson declared open season on ‘no-platforming’ by student unions. It’s a bit of red meat thrown to the Tory base. A lot of right-wing people are convinced that the average university is a hotbed of revolutionary socialists doggedly fighting to stamp out free speech.

Enter Toby Daniel Moorsom Young. Reportedly born in North London, allegedly the son of Baron Michael Young, one of the great minds behind the 1945 Labour Manifesto, who coined the term meritocracy to describe a dystopian form of social mobility, where vast numbers of people are cast down as undeserving scum. Befittingly, the young Toby was rejected by Oxford but got into Brasenose College in the end thanks to his dad’s connections.

In the decades since Young has reportedly cultivated a career as a right-wing talking head and he even tried running a free school in West London for a few years. This flirtation with education ended after a slew of resignations. Apparently, putting Young on a new council is meant to somehow address the problem of the student left crushing its enemies university campuses. Or, more likely, to make Conservatives feel like something is being done about these pesky radicals.

Of course, the Tory leadership has to find new ways to mobilise its ageing voters, but it will no doubt narrow its appeal in doing so. The next generation is on the rise and making an enemy of them is hardly the best tactic. This is the irony of elevating a journalist to the rank of an expert on higher education policy. But who else could be a better choice than Toby?

Consider the options. Who else could guarantee the maximum displeasure of teachers? Who else could encourage more protest on campus by merely existing? The answer is obviously Michael Gove, but he’s too busy trying to reinvent himself as a Green Tory (don’t ask).

Before discovering his green thumb, Gove was a hardcore neocon in love with Blair and bombers over Baghdad. He has more than happy to flirt with the most extreme loyalist narratives on Northern Ireland and back the most hawkish lines on Syria and Libya. However, even Gove would never have had the clarity of vision to pen these words (let alone publish them):

My proposal is this: once this technology [genetically engineered intelligence] becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? Provided there is sufficient take-up, it could help to address the problem of flat-lining inter-generational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite. It might make all the difference when it comes to the long-term sustainability of advanced meritocratic societies.

Michael Gove may have implemented the free schools policy, yet he even he didn’t lack the brains to speak so explicitly about the lower orders. Say what you will about the man, but Gove had the sense not to publish a tirade against inclusion in education:

Inclusive. It’s one of those ghastly, politically correct words that have 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 Münchausen syndrome by proxy. If [then education secretary, Michael] Gove is serious about wanting to bring back O-levels, the government will have to repeal the Equalities 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.

Yes, these excerpts are all the words of the alleged person Toby Young. Yet this character also has a knack for confiding bizarre thoughts in the most mundane of interactions:

Of course, the problem with using Sasha [Young] as a pulling accessory is that I can’t just dump her in the arms of my wife, turn to the girl who’s been making googly eyes at her, and say, “Fancy a shag then?”

One of the things that makes fathers so attractive is that our babies are living, breathing evidence of our devotion to our wives. No one could accuse us of being commitment phobic. Consequently, if we start flirting a little too outrageously with girls like Sophie, we suddenly become very unattractive. We must simply stand there like statues, happy to be gazed at, but never returning that gaze. Still, for someone like me, that’s a very pleasant new experience.

This is before we even get to the litany of tweets about breasts, the articles about porn and cocaine binges in the Groucho Club. It seems like Young’s reported life and career is composed entirely of such odd stories. It would be so much better if he was a hoax or an extended practical joke.

This is why I doubt the existence of Toby Young, a man who was banned from a film set – this was the film adaptation of his own book, incidentally – because the cast found him so utterly obnoxious. These tales are not aberrations. They are the signs of an invention. Someone must have come up with these stories to get a laugh out of us.

Take the story of novelist Will Self working with Young at Modern Review. On a night out, in a fit of seething rage, Self grabbed Toby and proceeded to try and force him into the flames of the pub’s fireplace. Looking back on the incident, Self admitted it was not his best moment and went on to describe Young as a “phenomenally irritating, little noisome tick”.

Another great story is that of Sean Langan, a war reporter and an alleged compatriot of Toby’s, who upon leaving for Afghanistan made a very specific request: “If I get kidnapped, don’t let my friend Toby Young try to help me. If he can alienate liberal people in London, God forbid if he starts talking about towelheads and Islamic nutcases. I’ll get beheaded.”

The man himself seems like a sad, some would say insecure and lonely individual. After all, Toby wrote an article on his stag party and how he planned for 10 of his best mates to go out for a right mad one. Except only four of them showed up, leaving him to pen a column taking apart “the myth of friendship“.

In a way, that’s all there is to say and I hope Mr. Young is an elaborate hoax by the left. It would be so much better for Toby, and for the rest of humanity, if he were a work of fiction. A world where such a man really exists would be far too tragic to comprehend.

Photograph courtesy of Hammersmith & Fulham Council. Published under a Creative Commons license.

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