It’s medieval out in the Twitterverse, and this week there was a fresh head on the spike. Toby Young’s appointment to the board of the new universities regulator had provoked a torrent of fury on social media – and on Tuesday he duly resigned ( see page 22). His supporters reckon that with his proven willingness to take on vested interests, and trenchant belief in free speech at a time when students are accused of wanting to suppress it, he’d have excelled in the role. Maybe. But what a strange decision it was to appoint him all the same, particularly now, in the post-trump, post-weinstein era.
Just as the stars in Hollywood were conspiring to dress in black at the Golden Globes to highlight sexism in the workplace ( see page 8), Jo Johnson, the now ex-universities minister, was deciding to give a plum public job to a professional provocateur who appeals to what might be termed the softalt-right, and who has a long, very public record of ogling women’s breasts and commenting on them. Given the need to build bridges on campuses, it was never likely to be a helpful appointment, nor, for a party that has haemorrhaged younger voters, a sensible one. To some, Young’s elevation reflects the enduring power of the chumocracy, and shows that the Tories are intent on fighting a culture war. As alarming is the possibility that ministers live in such a bubble they simply didn’t foresee the stink it would cause. Young had spent years cultivating enemies on Twitter. They were bound to harness the power of social media to bring him down.