THE WEEK

The Week - - News - Caro­line Law

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.

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