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It is not lost on me that I am up against one of the Johnson brothers and asking questions about one of their mates.
“Violent, sexist and homophobic language must have no place in our society, and parliamentarians of all parties have a duty to stamp out this sort of behaviour wherever we encounter it, and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
Those are the words of the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening, and it is a shame that she is not here today—I am not quite sure what job she has at the moment. I note that the Leader of the House is with us. She chairs an excellent committee in which we talk about eradicating sexual harassment, victimisation and bullying, and changing the culture in this House. I am therefore flabbergasted by this decision, and it is beyond me how the Minister can stand up and support the appointment of Toby Young. I find it hard to comprehend the appointment; I believe that it leaves the credibility of the Office for Students in tatters.
There are three areas that need to be urgently addressed today. The first is the process. What process was followed? Was the Nolan principle, as outlined in the application, applied? Was due process followed in all cases? Who was the independent assessor—I cannot find that person’s name? Why did the Department for Education exaggerate Toby Young’s qualifications and suitability for the role? Has the Commissioner for Public Appointments approved the appointment?
The second area is suitability. Have the Department for Education’s guidelines on the seven principles of public life been upheld? Most people would laugh at that, but I will leave the Minister to respond. Toby Young’s long history of misogyny and homophobia makes a mockery of such guidelines. A man who wrote about how he went to a gay club dressed as a woman in order to molest lesbians is far from appropriate. Far from apologising, however, he has defended his actions, citing free speech. That might be free speech, but surely it also shows that he is not suitable to hold public office. Just 13 months ago, someone put a sexual harassment policy document on Toby Young’s desk. He said:
“The next bit was underlined in red felt-tip pen: ‘A joke considered amusing by one may be offensive to another.’
I found out just how true those words were when I hired a strippergram to surprise a male colleague on his birthday on what turned out to be Take Our Daughters to Work Day.”
I challenge the Minister to explain that.
The third area is merit. The Prime Minister said on the steps of No. 10 that people would be promoted on the basis of merit, not privilege. Is that still the case, or does having friends like the Johnsons override all that? There are over 800 free schools, meaning that there is a plethora of suitable people who meet the criteria to be involved in the Office for Students. Is this simply a case of jobs for the boys? The Foreign Secretary—the Minister’s brother—declared that Toby Young has caustic wit, making him the ideal man for the job, but if boasting of masturbating over pictures of dying and starving children is caustic wit, I have most definitely lost my sense of humour. Why was the Prime Minister not aware of the comments before the appointment was made?
It is not too late. If there is an apology, rather than a statement of regret, will the Minister place it in the Library along with the more than 40,000 deleted tweets?