Senior Labour figures have written to the Prime Minister urging her to remove Toby Young from the board of the new higher education watchdog, accusing him of “virulent misogyny”.
Shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler and Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, expressed concerns about Mr Young’s “history of homophobia, misogyny and indifference to the rights of people with disabilities”.
Mr Young, a free school pioneer, was named as a board member on the new Office for Students (OfS) watchdog on Monday, but has since come under fire for comments he made on Twitter.
Writing to Theresa May, the Labour MPs say: “The virulence of Mr Young’s misogyny is disturbing; furthermore, he has offered no apology for his remarks.
“Instead, Mr Young has said that it would be a ‘shame if people who have said controversial things in the past, or who hold heterodox opinions, are prohibited from serving on public bodies’.”
On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson condemned criticism of Mr Young’s appointment, tweeting: “Ridiculous outcry over Toby Young. He will bring independence, rigour and caustic wit. Ideal man for job.”
However the two frontbenchers also criticise Mr Johnson’s argument. They write: “Instead of apologising for causing offence Mr Young has instead indulged in gaslighting many of those who have objected; rounding on them and questioning their sanity. This is not evidence of what the Foreign Secretary termed ‘caustic wit’, it is simply misogyny.”
Ridiculous outcry over Toby Young. He will bring independence, rigour and caustic wit. Ideal man for job
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 3, 2018
In a blog post on Facebook, Mr Young, whose appointment suggested it would be a “shame” if people who have made controversial comments, or hold non-conformist opinions, were banned from serving on public bodies.
He noted that the OfS will have some responsibility for ensuring universities protect free speech on campus, which he said he has been a defender of since the age of 16.
Mr Young added: “Given that defending free speech will be one of the OfS’s priorities, there’s a certain irony in people saying I’m ‘unfit’ to serve on its board because of politically incorrect things I’ve said in the past.
“Some of those things have been sophomoric and silly – and I regret those – but some have been deliberately misinterpreted to try and paint me as a caricature of a heartless Tory toff.
“For the record, I’m a supporter of women’s rights and LGBT rights.
“I’m also a defender of teaching children with disabilities in mainstream schools.”
Some of those things have been sophomoric and silly – and I regret those – but some have been deliberately misinterpreted to try and paint me as a caricature of a heartless Tory toff. 23/
— Toby Young (@toadmeister) January 3, 2018
Mr Young’s previous Twitter posts include a 2012 tweet when he wrote watching Prime Minister’s Questions: “Serious cleavage behind Ed Miliband’s head. Anyone know who it belongs to?”
A 2009 post also read: “What happened to Winkleman’s breasts (sic) Put on some weight, girlie #comicrelief.”
The shadow secretaries argue that his appointment is at odds with the Prime Minister’s ambition to create a “truly meritocratic country” and point to a petition to reverse the appointment which has attracted more than 120,000 signatures.