Toby Young is taught a valuable lesson, that free speech is not without consequence

It is an unexpected coincidence that, having written a piece on these pages suggesting that a more mutually respectful dialogue might be a good thing, the whole Toby Young story hit the headlines. And, let’s be honest, he has made his reputation by means of saying things likely to offend in order to attract attention. Now, apparently, these repeated offences were “sophomoric and silly”, and thus should be excused so that he might take up a place on the board of the new Office for Students.

I’m not the first person to suggest that he really isn’t a fit person to hold public office. However, I think that being stupid isn’t, in itself, a reason to bar people from positions of authority. We believe, after all, in rehabilitation of offenders.

No, I’m opposed to him holding public office for a rather different reason. Toby Young is a coward incapable of accepting responsibility for his own actions.

You should not be able to make a career out of offending people without consequence, especially if you’ve made a very good living out of doing so, which Toby has. He writes reasonably competently, but cannot do so without dropping in some “opinion bomb” or other, designed entirely to shock or outrage. And there are those out there who take a similar approach to public discourse.

One must assume, therefore, that either he means what he has written in the past, in which case he isn’t fit to hold public office, and owes everyone an apology, or he has lied repeatedly in print or the spoken word, in which case he isn’t fit to hold public office, and owes everyone an apology.

But what he demonstrates, above all, is a total unwillingness to accept the consequences of his past behaviour, something that most ordinary people, denied a platform in the national media, aren’t allowed, and nor should they be. Free speech comes with consequences, and too often various ‘enfants terrible’ seem to assume that they should be given a free pass to offend. Often, they do so by harming others, others unable to defend themselves amidst a deluge of social media abuse.

With power comes responsibility, and the more imbalanced that power is, the more responsibility there is. Our public spaces suffer when people are rewarded for being cruel, vindictive or otherwise abusive.

No, Toby should use the events of the past days as a learning experience, go off and do good works for a period of time, and then, once he can credibly claim that he has really changed, might he be an appropriate candidate for public office. Personally, I’d suggest a period of time equal to that he has spent profiting from his unpleasantness.

See you again in 2040, eh, Toby?…

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 8th Jan '18 - 10:32am

    “Go off and do good works for a period of time”. Like the late John Profumo perhaps? Why not make that “period of time” for ever, as Mr Profumo did? As for untweeting those ‘messages’, people should realise that there exists a memory bank which is impervious to any amount of button pressing. It’s called the human mind!

  • Jayne mansfield 8th Jan '18 - 10:40am

    @ Mark Valladares,
    Isn’t the point about free speech ( within the law), that we can all judge the person by the comments made ?

    We can either challenge the comments, or decide that in the case of Mr Young, he is unfit for any public office, because public office requires certain standards and an understanding of importance role- modelling.

    Mr Young himself must already know that free speech has consequences. Why else would some 48,000 tweets have been deleted? (Huffington Post and others has saved and printed some of the worst of them). That he knowingly and publicly made them says something important about his judgment and self control.

    Moreover, those who have defended him, his friend Boris Johnson’s comments are also coming under the spotlight once again, and questions about his suitability as Foreign Secretary and position as an ambassador for Britain are quite rightly in the spotlight.

    If the ‘sophomoric’ boys had kept their words confined to a private dining room, we would be unaware of the sheer nastiness of the comments, and what they say about their character. The people or groups to which the ‘ wit’ was directed would be blind to the nature of the person. and might even think that as politicians or public officers they are deserving of support.

    The deletion of tweets allows one to question another facet of Mr Mr Young’s character, his ability to stay calm and defend his behaviour, and his attitude to openness and transparency.

    Thank goodness for the free press that brought Mr Young’s comments to public attention.

  • It’s not like one or two ill-judged lapses. I don’t think they are opinion bombs designed to provoke outrage either. I take them at face value.
    Toby Young reminds me of is one of the people (usually blokes) who hide behind the excuse of “banter” when put on the spot.

  • Jayne mansfield 8th Jan '18 - 11:21am

    @ Glenn,
    Indeed, and they must not be allowed to get away with the excuse that it is ‘just banter ‘, when to their surprise their opinions or behaviour are unexpectedly challenged .

  • Jayne mansfield 8th Jan ’18 – 10:40am…………Isn’t the point about free speech ( within the law), that we can all judge the person by the comments made ?……..

    Absolutely! Toby Young hopes, by removing those ‘tweets’ it will be “as if he had never written them”…
    That, IMO, is why censoring such nasty views is counter-productive; had he never written them how would we be able to use his own words to argue that he is unfit to hold such a public office?

  • Phil Beesley 8th Jan '18 - 2:50pm

    If I wanted to have a go against Toby Young, and I’m not sure whether he matters enough, I’d challenge the expression “sophomoric”.

    The term is defined in American English culture — relating to 20 year old US students. A 20 year old UK student might make a sophomoric comment, I suppose, with regard to US culture.

    I can’t work out how a 54 year old English journalist writing for an English newspaper might turn up for the job if he wrote like an idiot.

  • Jayne mansfield 8th Jan '18 - 3:54pm

    @ Phil Beesley,
    I have to disagree with you when you think that it is not worthwhile to go up against someone like Toby Young, or indeed Boris Johnson and their ilk. In fact , I think it is the duty of all decent people to do so.

    It is appalling if members of society see bad behaviour rewarded, and excuses made because the individual is part of an establishment fraternity. It is heartening to see the firm responses of some Tory MPs, for example Dr Sarah Wollaston.

    Over the years, I have found that there is one thing worse than the inner fear, the pounding heart one experiences, when when one challenges those who make life unnecessarily harsher and unpleasant for others, and that is the long term sense of shame and self- disgust that one feels when one does not speak up, ‘ because they are not worth it’. It’s a cop out.

  • Nonconformistradical 8th Jan '18 - 4:40pm

    “As for untweeting those ‘messages’, people should realise that there exists a memory bank which is impervious to any amount of button pressing. It’s called the human mind!”
    Plus various places on the web where some of them can be found e.g.

  • TY is an abhorrent individual and not worthy to hold public office.

  • Laurence Cox 9th Jan '18 - 2:00pm

    @expats @nonconformistradical

    Twitter has its own Wayback Machine as well although, as I never signed up for Twitter, I cannot check its completeness:

  • John Marriott 9th Jan '18 - 6:25pm

    I see that young Toby has this afternoon stood down from the OfS and that his ‘boss’ (if that’s what Johnson Minor was likely to have been) has been moved in the reshuffle. As his big brother might say, “un foutoir énorme”.

  • Jayne mansfield 9th Jan '18 - 6:35pm

    @John Marriott,


    Enjoy your retirement from active service.

  • Simon Banks 6th Mar '18 - 10:42pm

    Yes. I feel the same about artists who are mean and nasty and respond to criticism by howling “censorship!” Mean and nasty is mean and nasty. Different, of course, if they’re not celebrating nastiness but pointing out it exists.

    There is also a tendency to conflate editorial discretion with censorship. The editor won’t publish your cartoon offensive to Muslims? Who’s stopping you submitting it elsewhere?

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