Toby Young not being allowed redemption for past offensive remarks: BBC Radio 4 Today

Janet Downs's picture

Toby Young is ‘not being allowed redemption for past offensive remarks despite his endeavours in schools’, said Catherine Pepinster on Radio 4 Today’s Thought for the Day*.

Pepinster said redemption was a ‘basic tenet of Christian thought’.  And she’s right.  People should be allowed second chances if they're truly repentant.

Young has apologised for past offensive remarks.    But while some comments were years old, some were not.  And the latter ran alongside his work in education.

Working in education – especially when it’s high-profile – is incompatible with tweeting the kind of stuff which would have got Young sacked if he’d been a headteacher.

The failure to recognise this shows a lack of judgement.  And it’s this which contributed to Young’s resignation from the Office for Students board.  If one makes a career out of stoking controversy, then one can’t complain if that controversy has an effect.

There were other reasons which made Young unsuitable for the job: his lack of independence and rigour, possible conflict of interest and his views on ‘progressive eugenics’.

The latter has now erupted after an article appeared in Private Eye which highlighted Young’s attendance at the 2017 London Conference on Intelligence.  Nothing is known about the 2017 agenda, but the 2016 agenda** begins with this quote:

‘Selective breeding can alter man's capacity to learn, to keep sane, to cherish justice or to be happy...'

Young says  he was only gathering information for a lecture (although he says he was ‘invited’ in the eventual address).   He just ‘sat at the back…scribbling away in my reporter’s notepad, while some right-wing fruitcakes held forth about “dysgenics”’.  Listening to ideas doesn’t mean acceptance of those ideas, Young argues.  And he’s right.

But here wasn’t much criticism of  ‘right wing fruitcakes’ in his lecture.  And if their views were so bonkers then it’s surprising he didn’t criticise them publicly.  Surely such ‘weird and whacky’ opinions would have been a fruitful target for Young’s caustic wit.  

Back to Thought for the Day.  Young is seeking redemption by speaking up for himself – and that’s fair enough.  He takes Private Eye, Polly Toynbee and even ‘seemingly respectable mainstream newspapers’ (note the clever use of ‘seemingly') for implying he’s a ‘Nazi’.  In his defence he cites a BMJ blog which says Young’s views were ‘in many ways, fairly unremarkable’. 

But this is cherry-picked from the first section of the blog.  The second part ends:

Toby Young’s piece is mistaken, and any moral claim we take from it is likely to be wide of the mark.  But the problem is not that it is eugenicist, progressive or not.  It’s that eugenics is the wrong way to try to solve the problem of poverty and low mobility.

Perhaps, as I’ve argued before, social policies to raise people out of poverty would have more effect than suggesting poor people could volunteer to have IVF in order to choose the ‘best’ embryos.

*Downloadable here  from 49mins10seconds.  

**I can’t provide a link, but the pdf document can be found by searching on-line for London Conference on Intelligence 2016 - Open Science Framework

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