Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

Shortly after midnight on 1 January my phone began to vibrate repeatedly. Happy New Year messages from absent friends? No, I was trending on Twitter -- the third-most popular topic on the network after #NYE. The cause was a story about me in the next day's Guardian that had just gone live. The headline read: 'Toby Young to help lead government's new universities regulator.'

Now, that is wildly overstating it. I've been appointed to the board of the Office for Students (OfS), the new body created by merging the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office for Fair Access -- one of 15 people! But the Guardian's spin was enough to ruin many people's New Year's Eve, or so they claimed on Twitter. The thrust of about half the tweets -- they were coming thick and fast -- was the news that I'd been appointed to 'lead' a public body had destroyed what little hope they had that 2018 would be any better than 2017, what with Trump in the White House, Theresa May clinging on after the general election, Article 50 being triggered, etc.

Naturally, many expressed this in intemperate language. For instance, Natasha Devon, a former mental health champion at the Department for Education, tweeted: 'One hour into 2018 and I've already shouted 'Oh f*** right off' at my phone.' Below was a link to the offending Guardian article. Well, sorry to take the shine off your celebrations, Natasha, but just imagine what it's like to be the target of several thousand ad hominem attacks on New Year's Eve. That sobers you up.

The following day, the twitchfork mob started trawling my website and gleefully tweeting links to politically incorrect things I'd written in the past -- in one case, a 1998 article for a New York lads' mag entitled 'I was a lesbian for a night'. This recounted my unsuccessful efforts to pick up a 'lipstick lesbian' by dressing as a woman and embarking on a whistlestop tour of Manhattan's LGBT scene. Admittedly, not the most obvious qualities to look for in a university regulator, but it was 20 years ago.

This sudden interest caused a spike in traffic to my website, triggering some kind of safety switch that shut it down. That immediately led to accusations that I'd sabotaged it myself to avoid embarrassment, at which point the witchfinder generals began to tweet screenshots of the offending material they'd made earlier, accompanied by messages along the lines of: 'Nice try, Toad. …

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