Baron Bullshit & the Mail to Beeb pipeline: Why Toby Young's whining and BBC News' 'right' views reveal a lot
Here are two examples that tell us a great deal about the British media's plumbing and the shit that slips through it.
|Mic Wright||Feb 5||3|
It was generally accepted that Toby Young had reached Peak Pathetic when, in 2016, he wrote a column headlined ‘Call yourself a friend?’ with this powerfully Alan Partridge-energy intro:
Only four out of ten pals turned up to my stag do, not including the ‘best friend’ who organised it…
But Toby Young is a jedi of the self-own. However low you think he can go, he knows there’s further to dig. Normally there’d be no point in devoting more than a tweet to picking over the bones of Young’s latest sacrifice to Aidos, but this time he’s accidentally said one of cardinal truths of the British media out loud — a big part of its output is about sucking up to the powerful in the hope of reward, be that through a cushy think-tank gig or, as in Lil Tobe’s case, a seat in the Lords.
Beneath what he would no doubt claim was a self-aware headline but which anyone with eyes can tell is the raw product of his broken ego — ‘What more do I have to do to get a peerage?’ — Young writes:
Watching Lord Hannan of Kingsclere being introduced in the House of Lords on Monday was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I’m delighted for Dan. He is one of the heroes of Brexit, and his impromptu speech about Margaret Thatcher in the pub following her memorial service brought a tear to my eye (you can find his speech on YouTube).
But on the other, I can’t help thinking: where’s my bloody peerage? I’ve edited this and that, co-founded four free schools, served on the boards of numerous charities and set up the Free Speech Union. I was the chief exec of a high-profile charity, for Christ’s sake, and my immediate predecessor got a CBE. I haven’t even got a lousy MBE…
I must be one of the few potential recipients who wouldn’t denounce the British Empire as soon as he pocketed the gong.
I thought my elevation to the Lords might happen when Boris became Prime Minister. Up until that point, I’d given him more tobacco enemas than any other journalist in Fleet Street. (Blown smoke up his arse.) I even wrote a 5,000-word hagiography for an Australian magazine entitled ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’. Indeed, I laid on the oil so thick in that piece I’m now worried that when I’m standing in front of St Peter at the Pearly Gates he’s going to bring it up: ‘You did plenty of good works, you’ve been a decent husband and father and you always gave money to beggars. But on the other hand, you did write that 5,000-word piece about Boris in which you compared him to Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Sorry mate, it’s down you go.’
Firstly, that Young feels the need to explain his one vaguely good gag (“tobacco enema”) with parenthesis is the funniest thing about the article. Not only is he desperately pleased with himself, he presumes that Spectator readers are not quite as sharp as him and will be baffled by his high-level wordplay. Secondly, that lack of friends he wrote about in 2016 seems to still be in full effect with the editors of The Spectator will to let Young hang himself in every issue.
Presumably Young talks about the “5000-word [Boris] hagiography for an Australian magazine” without naming the publication in the hope that people will skip over the detail and not return to the piece in question. But I remember it clearly; written for Quilette, the preferred pamphlette of right-wing grievance merchants, it was less hagiography and more like poor quality slash fiction. Young described Boris Johnson…
…with his huge mop of blond hair, his tie askew and his shirt escaping from his trousers, he looked like an overgrown schoolboy. Yet with his imposing physical build, his thick neck and his broad, Germanic forehead, there was also something of Nietzsche’s Übermensch about him.
You could imagine him in lederhosen, wandering through the Black Forest with an axe over his shoulder, looking for ogres to kill. This same combination—a state of advanced dishevelment and a sense of coiled strength, of an almost tangible will to power—was even more pronounced in his way of speaking.
In many ways it’s impressive that Toby was able to type so many multisyllabic words using only his erect penis.
The latest Spectator column continues with Young’s regret that he dropped the Boris boosterism when he spun up his not-at-all conspiracy theory loving, science twisting, men’s shed for the maladjusted Lockdown Sceptics.
But before that, Young reaches into his big folder marked Complete Bollocks to recount a story that absolutely did not happen in the way it’s told — The One Where Boris Johnson Promises Him An Honour:
It was Boris who got my hopes up. In September of 2011, when he was Mayor of London, he opened the first free school I helped set up. He made quite a good joke as he cut the ribbon. ‘The Secretary of State for Education has given a new word to the English language,’ he said, referring to our mutual friend. ‘We give, they gave, he Gove — he Gove us this school.’
Afterwards, as he was getting into his chauffeur-driven car, he asked me if I’d like to be in the House of Lords. ‘We need more people like you,’ he said.
‘Don’t I have to give a million quid to the Tory party first?’
‘Leave it with me,’ he said, touching his nose.
Having known Toby Young as a student — they were Oxford contemporaries — and professionally — Young worked for Johnson when he was editor of The Spectator — the Prime Minister has many decades of experience in responding to Tobe’s obsequience with scraps of fake affection mistaken for feasts.
While Young thinks of himself as a significant friend to Boris Johnson, I suspect that ‘BoJo’ sees him as an irritating egg.
Young brings the column to a close by recounting another pathetic occasion when he begged David Cameron to elevate him to the Lords:
It was the same story with David Cameron. We were at Brasenose together and when he was still prime minister I told him about the shock I’d received when I returned for a college reunion and Dave Ramsden — a contemporary of ours and now deputy governor of the Bank of England — let slip he’d been given a knighthood.
‘Come on, Prime Minister,’ I said. ‘You’ve got to stick me in the Lords so I can one-up him at the next Brase-nose gaudy.’ He laughed, but I told him I was in deadly earnest. I thought there might be a sliver of a chance until we ended up on different sides during the EU referendum. Another bridge burnt.
Toby Young is that person you knew at university who, on the odd occasions you bump into them, cannot stop talking about decades old in-jokes that no one remotely gives a shit about anymore. His ego demands that he be seen as of equal importance to the history of the nation as two actual Prime Ministers. To them he remains what he was at Oxford — a nurk who wouldn’t stop hanging around trying to be their pal.
The column again reveals the Freudian nightmare of Toby Young’s consciousness. He will never get over the fact that his father, Michael Young, was enobled as Baron Young of Dartington for his admirable work as an academic and political thinker (he wrote the 1945 Labour manifesto) and the founder of socially useful organisations including the Consumers’ Association, Which? magazine, the National Consumer Council, the National Extension College, the Open College of the Arts, and the Open Univeristy. But it also breaks an important rule of honours chasing and the media in general.
You don’t ask publicly for one. You suck up and lobby privately, but you certainly don’t rhetorically get on your knees and beg. And while the grim possibility of Young Jnr following in his father’s footsteps to put on the ermine remains — Clare Fox is now Baroness Fox of Buckley after all — the column will have done him no favours.
Like the mild brouhaha in 2001 when Young was stripped of his Groucho Club membership after writing about taking cocaine there, he has forgotten that you’re not meant to explicitly say how the media works in the media. The Pompidou Centre approach — putting the pipes with the shit flowing through them out front — is very much frowned upon.
When he wrote that sloppy blowjob of an essay about Boris Johnson for Quilette, there’s no doubt that Young would have assured anyone that asked that it was his honestly held opinion. But less than two years later he’s admitted that he hammered away at the keyboard with hopes of future glory rattled around in his pickled egg head. We can all see the brown nosing, it’s just that most of the suck-ups try to pretend the mess on their faces is fake tan.
While we’re on the subject of the shit that flows through the British media and how the plumbing works, let’s look at a story that was sucked up social media, passed through the Daily Mail’s sewage works and overflowed into the studios of BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.
The Daily Mail published a story that claimed:
A clergyman from a prominent Church of England parish yesterday condemned the commemoration of Captain Sir Tom Moore as a ‘cult of white British nationalism’.
The Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown appeared to dismiss the work of the Covid fund-raiser, whose efforts were praised by all political leaders and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The cleric, newly appointed to a prestigious post by the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Sarah Mullally, added that he would not join Wednesday night's national clap to mark the passing of Captain Tom.
It made sure to note that Robinson-Brown is black and gay, two crosses on the Mail’s bigot bingo card, but waited until a long way into its story to actually quote his tweet which did not dismiss Captain Tom’s fundraising. In fact he wrote:
The cult of Captain Tom is a cult of White British Nationalism.
I will offer prayers for the repose of his kind ang generous soul, but I will not be joining the ‘National Clap’.
Now, you might think that tweet would be considered free speech by The Daily Mail, which does not go a day without publishing something about how you can’t say you’re English without getting arrested, but as I’ve covered here so many times the British right only favours free speech for people who agree with it.
If there was ever an organisation that punished ‘wrongthink’ in Britain, it is The Daily Mail. It makes it abundantly clear on a daily basis that having opinions anywhere to the left of Bernito Mussolini on a bad day is simply not allowed.
The homophobia and racism of the Mail’s story become even more clear when a later paragraph chunters:
Mr Robinson-Brown is set to begin work shortly at the ‘inclusive church’, CofE jargon for a radical parish that supports gay rights. His new vicar, the Reverend Katherine Hedderly, greeted his appointment as a curate last weekend by saying her congregation were ‘delighted’.
Oh no! Not a parish that supports gay rights. In the opinion of The Daily Mail’s editors those damn gays have quite enough rights already.
So far, so Daily Mail but it was the appearance of the story, framed largely as it had been by The Mail, in the news headlines on yesterday evening’s PM that showed how reliant BBC News is on right-wing newspapers for its news agenda. There was no justification for putting such the story — cleric says something that upsets the right and ends up harassed by The Daily Mail and its flying monkeys on social media — among the top concerns of the day.
What BBC News might have done, if it weren’t so terrified of the government and further drive-bys from The Daily Mail, The Times and astroturfing groups like Defund The BBC (which are inevitable anyway), it might have covered the story by looking at why Robinson-Brown was not allowed to express his view on the media coverage of Captain Tom and the spin around the fundraiser’s death.
But as I wrote yesterday, BBC presenters from the moulded plastic inaction man Dan Walker on Breakfast to Nick Robinson on Today indulged in a bout of Princess Diana-ism in the wake of Captain Tom’s death.
The media environment feels the most propagandistic it has in years. Things like the monarchy and landlordism were already accepted as good and necessary things by the press and media but now it seems that even questioning patriotic spin is beyond the pale.
If BBC News was doing its job properly, it would question that. Instead, still drawing much of its news agenda from the tabloids, it just joins in.